If you’ve been paying attention to automaker news, you probably know that Honda has been in trouble in recent years, with falling sales, painful recalls, and other issues. The company got a new CEO and President in 2015, who immediately pledged to invest in a number of future technologies – including a self-driving car. Honda seems intent on bringing that vision to life, because the carmaker has received permission from the state of California to begin testing its driverless cars on public roads there.
Honda has already shown off a bit of driver-assistance technology on some of its current models. It’s also created an Acura RLX self-driving prototype to test out. On its U.S. debut, the car drove around Detroit, merged into traffic, obeyed the speed limit, and slowed to the appropriate speed when exiting.
Apparently Honda’s sensors use the wonderful power of lasers to create a 360-degree digital model of the environment (albeit with a clunky metal hat that the car has to wear). If there’s an emergency, then the metal hat automatically returns control of the car to the driver, who may or may not be dozing at the – a feature that, as others have mentioned, raises a lot of concerns about self-driving car safety and liability.
Why California? It’s a good question. After all, Tesla, Google, and quite a few other carmakers are also using California to test and market their self-driving cars – and many of them also have permission to go on public roads. The answer is twofold. First, very few states actually permit this kind of public testing, and California is by far the most friendly from viewpoint of Honda’s headquarters (others include Florida and Michigan). Second, California has Silicon Valley and lots of investor capital, which is why companies like Nissan and BMW have also been drawn there.