6 key features of Honda’s first partially self-driving car

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Honda’s first partially self-driving car is being leased in a limited 100-vehicle batch in Japan today (5 March). The Tokyo motor company has installed its new Sensing Elite safety system in the Legend Hybrid EX vehicle.

While Tesla rolled out a software update that reportedly gave a small number of customers full-self driving capabilities late last year, Reuters has said that Honda is the world’s first company to sell a vehicle equipped with level-three automation technology.

Honda’s Sensing is a suite of advanced safety and assisted-driving tech already present in many of its vehicles across the globe. The updated version, Sensing Elite, brings a number of new features, including a traffic jam pilot function, hands-off and emergency stop assist.

Traffic jam pilot

Traffic jam pilot technology allows the self-driving system to take control of the car when it’s in congested traffic. It determines the position of the vehicle and road conditions using data from 3D high-definition maps and the global navigation satellite system, and detects the vehicle’s surroundings using external sensors.

A monitoring camera mounted on the outside of the vehicle also tracks the condition of the driver. All of this gives the system the power to recognise current conditions and anticipate those of the future, and “applies a high level of control to acceleration, braking and steering inputs to assist the driver and achieve high-quality and smooth driving”, says Honda.

Developing it involved testing 10m patterns of real-world situation simulations and demonstration tests.

Hands-off

The hands-off function means that when the driver switches on adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and lane-keeping assist, and in certain road conditions, the system will help control the driving operations even if the driver takes their hands off the steering wheel.

Adaptive in-lane driving

This feature helps the car follow other vehicles detected ahead within a recognised lane. It keeps the car driving along the centre of the detected lane with a pre-set vehicle speed and when it detects another car in front of it, automatically follows it at an appropriate following distance.

Active lane change assist

If the driver is using adaptive in-lane driving but wants to change lanes, they can activate the turn signal or indicator. The car will automatically initiate throttle, braking and steering inputs to allow it to change lanes.

This feature can also be used under system assessment instead of driver assessment. In this case, the car assesses the situation and notifies the driver of another vehicle driving at a low speed ahead, and safely overtakes it.

Emergency stop assist

This safety function kicks in if the driver doesn’t react to multiple system requests to transfer the control of the self-driving system back to the human. If this happens, the system will decelerate the car and stop it by making a lane change to the road’s outermost lane or shoulder.

It will also disengage the traffic jam pilot and hands-off functions and initiate visual, auditory and tactile alerts in an attempt to notify the driver, such as escalated alarm sounds and vibrations in the seatbelt. If the driver continues to be unresponsive, the system will assist deceleration and stop the vehicle while alerting other vehicles around it using hazard lights and the horn.

Human-machine interface

One of the key functions of the Honda Sensing Elite system is its human-machine interface, which allows the driver to instantly recognise the system’s operating status, the driving situation and any handover requests.

Honda Sensing Elite lights are present on the steering wheel, as well as the top part of the navigation screen and the glove compartment. When the hands-off function is activated, for example, indicator lights on the steering wheel show up in a different colour than they would if the traffic jam pilot function was being used.

When the system is requesting a driver handover, all the lights in the vehicle will switch to orange and blink.

Watch the unveiling of Honda’s first partially self-driving car here. Each one costs $102,000.

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