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Honda overhauls autonomous development car

Next step: This second-generation development car based on the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid sedan will take Honda a step closer to achieving its goal of making autonomous vehicles widely available by around 2020.

US Acura test car enters second generation as Honda moves ahead with driverless tech

20 May 2016

HONDA’S US luxury division Acura has revealed a second-generation autonomous development vehicle in California this week based on its RLX Sport Hybrid.

The RLX is sold as the Legend in other markets, but the large sedan was discontinued in Australia when it entered its fifth generation last year – and is “not on the table” for return here.

Acura’s latest self-driving development car has been fitted with new components and software algorithms to support “more complex testing scenarios”.

According to Honda, the overhaul includes the fitment of new radar, LIDAR (light detection and ranging), camera and GPS sensors, along with higher performance CPUs and GPUs (central and graphics processing units) and improved cabling, heat management and circuitry.

The company says the development car is designed to achieve high reliability by “fusing overlapping information together from various sensors” – a concept known as sensor fusion – which allows test engineers to validate information from each signal with a higher degree of accuracy than if the sensors were working independently.

This extends on the ‘Honda Sensing’ (or ‘AcuraWatch’) automated technology already available on the Legend and other models, which takes driver-assist features a step further with systems such as pedestrian collision mitigation – a system billed as the first of its kind to swerve the car to avoid an impact with pedestrians.

The Silicon Valley-based Honda Research Institute USA will be responsible for testing the new development car at ‘GoMentum Station’ – a 5000-acre automated and connected vehicle proving ground at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station in California – and is aligned with the Japanese auto giant’s strategy to introduce autonomous vehicles by around 2020.

Honda Australia has this week advised that there are no moves to bring back the Legend here, although the company’s just-launched Civic offers ‘Honda Sensing’ systems for the first time, including collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control (with ‘low speed follow’), lane keep assist, road departure mitigation and blind-spot monitoring.

“We would never say ‘never’ but at this stage the Legend is not on the table as a potential addition to our line-up,” Honda Australia director Stephen Collins told GoAuto.

“The reality was that the Legend was a low-volume car for Honda. As it sat in $80K-$90K price bracket it also faced very tough competition. Honda Australia is focused on growing sales with vehicles like the new Civic and our popular HR-V and CR-V in the SUV segments.” Mr Collins added that the Australian subsidiary remained committed to the mid-size Accord, despite slow sales.

“As you know, competing in the mid-size segment is challenging but Honda remains committed to the Accord in Australia as a flagship sedan,” he said.

Mr Collins also reconfirmed that “while Honda Australia is keen to facilitate any opportunity to assist with the development of autonomous vehicles, there are no current plans to undertake any trials in Australia”.

Honda Motor Co president and CEO Takahiro Hachigo declared at the Tokyo motor show last year that the company was working on improving the functionality of its ‘Honda Sensing’ systems and expanding their application to more models.

“Toward this end, it is essential to realise automated driving that features a control function capable of determining the next move the vehicle should take by using highly sophisticated intelligence technologies, high-performance sensors and high-accuracy maps to recognise what is going on with the vehicle and the environment outside the vehicle,” he said.

“To be more concrete, we will continue making progress in our technology development with a target to put our automated driving technologies in practical use on highways by 2020.

“Honda will continue pursuing its goal to advance automobiles to the point where they will have ‘zero social footprint’ and we will strive to contribute to society with our automated driving technologies.”

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