At this year’s CES, which we didn’t attend because it conflicted with the Global Air Cleaners And Filters Show (GACAF) in lovely, erotic Lansing, Honda exhibited an interesting and charming-looking concept car that appears to have the goal of being a sort of bridge between human-brain-and-muscle-driven cars and fully autonomous cars. Sort of. They’re calling it the Augmented Driving Concept, and I feel like I need to explain it a bit more, for both of us.
The overall design of the car is like a cross between a futuristic bathtub famed industrial designer Colani would have tried to talk you into getting into and a small roadster like an Austin Healey Sprite or a Porsche Speedster.
The face of the car is similar in concept to Honda’s very charming Honda E electric car, just with a full clear face mask. Based on the design of the concept and the minimal cooling intakes, I suspect this is intended to be an EV concept as well.
There;s a big bench seat and what looks like a rear seat, though there’s a minimal, almost useless knuckle-windshield and no apparent roof. The sides sport a large triangular window, because why not, I guess.
While the design of the car is novel and fun, it’s pretty standard concept car stuff. What’s a bit more unique here is the fundamental Augmented Driving concept, which Honda describes as
“Honda will introduce its Augmented Driving Concept to address the cultural transition to autonomous vehicles. In the autonomous future, Honda believes that customers will be able to enjoy mobility in new ways when freed from the responsibility of driving. At the same time, customers may still want to experience the emotion and thrill of driving.
Honda’s Augmented Driving Concept features a seamless transition from autonomous to semi-autonomous driving operation. To respond quickly to the user’s curiosity, the autonomous driving system is constantly on standby, ready to intervene and control the vehicle when needed. The driving system changes between automatic and manual mode with a switch, and features more than eight modes between fully autonomous and semi-autonomous operation. Various sensors in the vehicle continuously read the user’s intention to smoothly shift between these modes, creating an instinctive driving experience.”
Really, what this seems to actually be, minus all the PR-talk frippery, is that it’s a car you can mostly drive when you feel like it, but if you get distracted by a shiny bit of foil on the side of the road or a particularily compelling billboard for bail bonds or a passing 1941 Tatra T87, you can just, you know, stop driving, and get the car to take over with a casual, mildly sensual stroke of the wheel.
You can see it in action here in Honda’s promo video:
It’s also worth noting that the dot pattern on that steering wheel makes it look like Honda has also developed technology to turn colanders into steering wheels.
Based on this video, it seems that what Honda has developed is not really all that different than an autonomous car; instead, they’ve made an autonomous car with the option for people to be really, really terrible drivers and suffer no consequences.
The method of driving is a bit unconventional as well; it’s an entirely steering-wheel-based system, pushing on the wheel accelerates, and pulling back to actuate the brakes.
This diagram actually gets across the concept well: you can have an autonomous car to take you somewhere with robotic efficiency, or this Augmented setup that lets you bop around like a distracted magpie to whatever snatches your attention and the car will keep you from running into any trees, books, or giant cupcakes.
I guess that book in the diagram is implying you can decide to read instead of driving? I mean, sure, why not?
Really, I think this sort of thing is likely to be common on future autonomous vehicles, but more to allow for car control in situations where the autonomous system is unable to operate, say in the case of something like people directing cars to park in a large field by pointing, or in areas or conditions where GPS or camera/sensor data is inaccessible for some reason.
It’s a bit silly, I suppose, but I don’t hate this idea; it allows you to retain a bit of the wandering aspect of driving that autonomy could destroy, and I’m all for anything that helps us maintain that.