Cars Tech

Honda’s Enters The Race For The Self-Driving Car

Honda Self Driving Technology Front

Honda Motor Company

Honda’s self-driving technology is advancing quickly

If you’re a large automaker not currently working on self-driving technology you might face some tough questions, from both industry analysts and your stockholders. And just working on self-driving technology isn’t enough anymore. You have to look competitive in a race that’s getting more frantic by the week. Honda Motor Company, after years of tepid autonomous vehicle news, has officially jumped into the self-driving slog with both feet. The Japanese carmaker recently hosted journalists at its primary R&D facility in Japan, where it offered details on technology development, brewing partnerships and even multiple rides in self-driving cars.

Probably the single biggest news to come out of the trip was Honda’s announcement about its budding relationship with Waymo, the self-driving division of Alphabet (Google’s parent company). Waymo is on the leading edge of autonomous technology development, but the tech company doesn’t want to become an automaker. It plans to focus on helping traditional automakers make the leap from human- to computer-controlled vehicles. That makes a partnership with Honda ideal. As Honda’s President and CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, stated during the event, “We are not going to do everything on our own. If we see potential for a win-win relationship we are open to those.”

The relationship with Waymo offers a much-needed boost to Honda’s self-driving efforts, but the automaker has already established several key technologies on the road to autonomous vehicles. The Honda Sensing suite of driver-assist capabilities is among the best integration of the technology we’ve experienced. Everything from smart cruise control to lane-keeping assist to automatic braking works seamlessly. Hachigo told journalists this tech will be included in all new vehicles sold in Japan and will expand in availability in the U.S. (the 2018 Honda Fit will get Honda Sensing as a new option). This gives Honda a strong foundation to build on.

Honda Self Driving Technology Rear

Honda Motor Company

Honda’s tech uses cameras, millimeter wave radar and LIDAR.

We experienced the company’s next level of self-driving capabilities at its R&D facility last week. These included a simulated highway ride in a prototype sedan fitted with dual cameras, millimeter wave radar units and LIDAR. The combination allowed the sedan to change lanes around slower traffic, brake for congested traffic and even initiate a video call at low speeds. The system also tracked driver movement to ensure my eyes were back on the road when traffic cleared before accelerating to highway speeds (it also ended the conference call to avoid distraction).

Another prototype sedan, equipped with only cameras, navigated slower but more complex roads involving 90-degree turns and 4-way intersections. The car was able to maintain its lane position, even without consistent lane markings, and it recognized unmarked intersections without stop signs or limit lines. Of course it was a clear day with no rain or snow, two circumstances that could interfere with a camera, thus the need for radar systems to supplement what a camera sees.