Honda’s effort to bring self-driving cars — or autonomous vehicles (AVs), as they’re also called — to our roads is in the hands of its luxury Acura brand in the United States. Although Honda is testing actual Honda mules in Japan, in this country it’s Acura that’s doing the heavy lifting.
As do several other carmakers, Acura has an automated development vehicle in testing that’s just been upgraded. The fact that it’s performing intense testing with autonomous mules both here and in Japan confirms Honda’s commitment to developing an AV. However, that’s not its short-term goal. With a few carmakers tossing around 2020 as a target date for an operational AV, Honda is quick to distance itself from the idea that completely autonomous vehicles will be in production anytime soon.
At the heart of the current Honda/Acura effort is to democratize newfound technology across a wide range of Honda and Acura models. For example, AcuraWatch, which features adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, road-departure mitigation and a collision-mitigation braking system with pedestrian-sensing capability, is now available on every 2016 Acura. Honda Sensing, Honda’s version of AcuraWatch, is even available on all Civic grades, as well as standard on the nameplate’s top-end Touring trim.
Honda/Acura AV Strategy
Speaking for Acura, Matt Sloustcher recently told Autotrader that its vision isn’t to have a 100 percent self-driving car in the next 4 or 5 years but to significantly help the driver through better technology by 2020. According to Sloustcher, Honda/Acura may well have cars that are capable of humans disengaging and reengaging with them under certain conditions by that 2020 date. “Corporate Honda sees autonomous vehicles as feasible,” he explained, “but it doesn’t see an end date for one at this point.”
Acura’s Test Prototype
Acura recently rolled out its second-generation test prototype, a 2016 RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD. It has a more-advanced array of sensors and cameras than the earlier-model RLX it replaced. With the latest radar — LIDAR (laser-based radar) — as well as more cameras, Sloustcher said it’s much better suited to the next level of autonomous testing. The newest RLX also offers better circuitry and heat management than the older model for all the additional electronics it will be expected to host.
As the hybrid version of the RLX, the test prototype uses a 310-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 combined with three electric motors. It also comes with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system. Even with the added weight of AWD, the hybrid is rated by the government at 30 miles per gallon in combined driving, as opposed to the regular gasoline-fueled car at 24 mpg combined.
Acura’s Test Environment
Acura is the first carmaker to take its AV testing to the San Francisco-area GoMentum Station. Located at the Concord Naval Weapons Station, GoMentum is a 5,000-acre facility with 20 miles of paved, urbanlike streets with buildings and other citylike structures. Honda is also heavily involved with the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center, which is similarly working toward a system of connected and self-driving cars.
Like so many other carmakers, Honda/Acura is steaming ahead full speed developing autonomous technologies. Just when all those technologies will dovetail into an actual fully autonomous car, though, is anyone’s guess.