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Honda Debuts Self-Driving Prototype

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Honda vehicle connectivity infographic

Honda vehicle connectivity infographic

Move over, GM. At the same Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress where General Motors CEO Mary Barra announced plans to roll out two partly autonomous Cadillacs by the summer of 2016 (as this blog reported yesterday), Honda said it has a prototype of a self-driving car, writes news.com.au.

The car, an Acura RLX sedan, has a laser-beam beacon on its top that scans its surroundings, similar to the ones on existing self-driving prototypes from Google, Ford, and Toyota, news.com.au writes.

 As Michael Martinez and Melissa Burden write for The Detroit News, Honda demonstrated the RLX Monday on an 8-mile loop of roadways where the car maneuvered itself without the driver touching the steering wheel, accelerator, or brakes.

The driver did begin the closed-track ride by having full control of the car, but when the driver pressed a button at a designated point along the route, the automated system took control, Martinez and Burden write.

The Detroit News reports:

The Acura picked up speed, changed lanes, slowed and merged onto other freeways automatically. Spinning cameras provided a 360-degree view of everything around it and allowed the car to maintain a safe distance from others. The driver could take over at any time by hitting the brake pedal or grabbing the steering wheel.

Honda said they are developing this technology for all of its vehicles, The Detroit News writes. Martinez and Burden write that the automaker says some form of autonomous driving may be available in its cars by 2020. Honda is also developing connected vehicle technology that would connect cars to pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers.

Martinez and Burden write that in the demonstration, the RLX began to automatically slow when its V2V technology detected “a gaggle of geese decoys” in the road more than 300 yards ahead. The RLX switched lanes automatically as it got nearer to the geese in order to avoid the traffic of backed up cars, The Detroit News writes. The RLX was notified about the geese by the camera of a car in front of the geese.

In addition, Martinez and Burden write, the RLX prototype was able to take control of the driving when the driver pretended to have a heart attack and pressed an SOS button during the closed-course demonstration. The car activated its flashers, pulled to the side of the road, and alerted emergency vehicles and other nearby vehicles with a distress signal. In a virtual towing example, another car that was communicating with the distressed one wirelessly synced with it and guided it on the road. If this were an actual scenario and not a prototype, the rescue car could have guided the distressed one to a hospital, The Detroit News writes.

Commenter responses to Martinez and Burden’s article have been mixed. Some commenters are cynical, believing that because technology can fail, autonomous vehicles are not the solution for preventing car accidents. For example, commenter Chris Thomas writes: “Cars are not infallible all its going to take is a system malfunction and people will die.” And Stephen E. Golden writes: “Just imagine the mess when the system is hacked.” But other commenters are enthusiastic about the prospect of self-driving cars. David Jones writes: “Can’t wait until we can buy one of those cars.”

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