Honda gets busy on EVs, autonomous drive

on Jun12

A high-performance EV prototype based on the Acura NSX

UTSUNOMIYA, Japan — They might be only prototypes, but the tire-squealing electric sports car and two self-driving sedans on display at Honda’s global r&d center here last week underscore the automaker’s determination to get moving into the future.

Honda used the demonstration to pull the wraps off a new attack plan to catch up in future technology fields where it has fallen behind the competition.

The automaker demonstrated a four-motor high-performance EV prototype based on the Acura NSX sports car. A professional driver floored it up and down a test track — almost silently, except for the screeching tires — doing doughnuts until the smell of burning rubber wafted across the tarmac.

Honda has long been an EV skeptic, dabbling with small-volume cars for regulatory compliance while rivals such as Nissan rolled out mass market nameplates, and others, such as Ford and VW, announced big plans for electrification across their lineups. Toyota, another late-coming former EV skeptic, joined the bandwagon last year by establishing its own EV development division.

Honda now says a newly launched Electric Vehicle Development Division will create EVs based on dedicated all-electric platforms. That is a departure from Honda’s current stance.

Under the automaker’s existing plans, its Clarity green car platform will get an EV variant. But that EV relies on a multi-use platform designed to accommodate the other two technologies of the Clarity trio, a plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

At the same time, Honda last week previewed an autonomous car technology that it intends to bring to market in 2020.

Demonstrated in an Acura RLX sedan, the system allowed its driver to shift into self-driving mode with the push of a button on the steering wheel. It lapped Honda’s high-speed oval track in that mode, automatically changing lanes to pass slower cars at speeds of 60 mph.

Honda demonstrated a four-motor high-performance EV prototype based on the Acura NSX last week.

The technology incorporates two cameras, five lidar sensors and five millimeter-wave radar systems.

As part of its demonstration, the car got caught in a simulated traffic jam and slowed to a crawl. Using the self-driving features, the driver used the down time to hold a video conference call.

The second self-driving vehicle Honda displayed used an Accord Hybrid to demonstrate Honda’s vision for city driving and Level 4 autonomy. It included a steering wheel and pedals, but allowed the driver to be completely disengaged while the car traveled to its destination.

“We are not envisioning a vehicle with no steering wheel or pedals,” Honda Motor Co. CEO Takahiro Hachigo told onlookers. “The driver is there, but does not have to drive the entire time. If it is fun for the driver, they can control the vehicle on their own. For the rest of the time, they can be free.”

Hachigo said Honda will deploy an autonomous driving system capable of piloting city roads with intersections and pedestrians sometime after it introduces one for highway driving in 2020.

Nissan, by contrast, has said it will deploy a system for city driving by 2020.

Honda expects to deliver Level 4 autonomy for personal car use around 2025.

Its Level 4 demo car drove itself down a winding road and through several service-street intersections on the infield of Honda’s sprawling proving ground.

At this stage of development, the prototype uses only three cameras. Honda may augment the system with lidar, radar or other sensors later as the technology evolves.

It still has a way to go. At this stage, the system can operate only on roads that have been preprogrammed into its computer.

Engineers conceded that the system still cannot recognize changing traffic lights, and the car also cannot steer clear of unexpected obstacles, such as a deer jumping into the road. ​



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