Honda is chanting the mantra in which the automotive industry magically delivers “a collision-free society” by leveraging the latest technology. Though this is hardly a novel marketing strategy, even for Honda, and one that predictably requires you to be patient because the company says it won’t be arriving as standard equipment until 2030.
Automakers have been promising that advanced driving aids would eventually result in hazard-free motoring since the 1950s. However, that kind of talk became ubiquitous around 2015 when manufacturers started promising that autonomous cars would soon eliminate crashes while battery-powered vehicles saved the environment. You’ve heard every brand say so a million times before, often issuing an itemized plan with deadlines that are never met.
Still, progress is eventually made. It just tends to happen at a much slower pace than promised and in a manner that automakers can use to financially rationalize their massive development budgets.
Honda Sensing has been embedded into its products since 2014, offering an array of convenience and safety features the entire industry has been chasing. Over the years, we’ve seen the manufacturer add things like lane-keeping, adaptive cruise control, and automated emergency braking. But Honda says it’s about to add “hands-free driving” with an updated version of the Sensing suite just a few years away.
Well, it’ll be a few years away before North Americans get access. The updated version will actually be debuting in China this year under the banner of Honda Sensing 360 and Sensing Elite. But the company has announced that they’ll begin making their way to the U.S. market in the second half of this decade. So you should start seeing all the glitzy hands-free stuff by 2025 with Honda planning to make it standard by 2030.
As for what you’re actually getting, the name kind of gives it away. Whereas the original Sensing system relied on a single camera and frontal sensor array, the new version will add 5 millimeter-wave sensors (basically a horizontal radar system) that provide 360 degrees of coverage. This is supposed to make the current roster of advanced driving aids more reliable and capable.
Honda claimed that the update would “further reduce driver burden by detecting abnormal conditions occurring to the driver and the vehicle’s surroundings and reducing the risk of collisions.” While it didn’t really specify what that meant, it sounds like there will be some form of driver monitoring, which presumably means in-cabin cameras.
If you’re wondering why China gets first dibs, there are a few possibilities. Honda either believes that China has surpassed the United States as an economic superpower and will simply have more people willing to spend extra money on these kinds of features or it doesn’t think the system will pass regulatory muster in the U.S. without there being some changes made to vehicle safety standards – something that’s currently taking place.
There’s also the possibility that Honda is worried about consumer acceptance in North America. Despite the entire industry pushing screen-focused infotainment systems, hands-free driving tech, and assistance features that are supposed to make for safer trips, the feedback the industry is getting on some of the above has grown mixed in the United States. Studies have suggested that advanced driving aids aren’t all that effective and may do more harm than good by gradually dulling the driver’s skills while button-free interiors have proven themselves more taxing than tranquil. The prospect of implementing driver-monitoring cameras has also been wildly unpopular with Americans and it looks like Sensing 360 might include it.
By focusing so much energy on the above, automakers have alienated themselves from a subset of buyers that are more concerned with the fundamentals than how closely their automobile mimics the capabilities of their smartphone. But they’re also in competition with each other and know that there are just as many shoppers who will be swayed by the size of the screen that’s been installed into the dashboard. Nobody wants to be accused of being a backward-looking brand, even if the future seems superficial and shortsighted. Meanwhile, governments are starting to require advanced driving aids and driver monitoring systems as a safety precaution – often at the behest of automotive lobbyists.
From the sound of things, it looks like Honda wants to modernize its advanced driving system to be more competitive with other brands that have leaned more heavily into the technology. But you still won’t be getting a self-driving car.
The “Advanced In Lane Driving with Hands-Off Function” seems to be Honda Sensing 360’s coolest feature. It’s basically hands-free cruise control with the ability to take corners (think Tesla Autopilot). However, it allegedly won’t require you to retake the wheel unless the car decides it cannot navigate the road ahead. If you fail to do that, the car then goes mental (honking and flashing lights) to alert the people around you that you’re unresponsive and about to crash while it does its best to avoid hitting anybody. Emergency Steering Support Technology is technically supposed to bring the car to a stop as safely as possible. But when everything goes sideways at 70 mph, that’s often easier said than done.
There will also be technology migrating over from Acura products, the most interesting being the exit warning feature that’s supposed to alert occupants of nearby (or oncoming) pedestrians or vehicles you may not notice are approaching. Though the really slick stuff will be exclusive to Sensing Elite, which Honda said was poised to receive “technologies to assist the driver on non-expressways including a hands-off function while driving through a traffic jam on arterial roads; to enable hands-off functions during merging onto and exiting from an expressway at a road junction; to assist the driver by automatically parking in and driving out of a home garage.”
Again, these are things we’ve seen other manufacturers show off in the past. But they’re not features you’d typically associate with Honda products. Regardless, the manufacturer is making some pretty big claims for the system and it would be impressive to see a successful execution – even if it’s accompanied by unsavory driver monitoring and more warning chimes than anyone should have to deal with.
The current version of Honda Sensing is standard on all new Hondas and Acuras sold in North America. Honda Sensing 360 and the related AcuraWatch will begin offering hands-free features in China immediately with the plan for it to become standard equipment globally by 2030 (supposedly reducing traffic fatalities in Honda products by half). But Sensing Elite doesn’t appear to have a formal timeline, not that we’d have expected the automaker to adhere to anything.[Image: KULLAPONG PARCHERAT/Shutterstock]
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