Supercars and Robots Push Honda Toward the Autonomous Future – BRETT BERK 06.24.17 07:00 AM


Honda

For all its prowess, there’s something weird about the NSX. Acura’s supercar uses a quartet of motors—three electric, one gas—to put power to any given wheel just when you need it most, making the supercar explosive, agile, and confidence-inspiring.

Here’s the odd part: As seamlessly as the NSX supports and elevates your driving skills, it’s hard to pin down how involved the car is. This is a common measuring stick for six-figure cars: Does it let you engage in and own your aggressions and mistakes, or is an interventionist, taking control or overriding at the first sign of trouble?

The NSX doesn’t fit easily onto this scale. Going into a tight corner too hot on a rural back road, it allows the driver to venture onto the knife-edge of trouble. And when it finally steps in to course correct, it somehow makes you feel like you nailed the turn yourself. Not scolding. Magic. The kind of magic that makes Honda more ready for the connected, shared, autonomous driving future than its doubters might assume.

Honda

This tingly feeling is familiar—or, perhaps, familial. Honda, Acura’s parent company, has long prided itself on innovation that uses technology to enhance the human experience, making it less stressful and more fun. The NSX isn’t the only unassuming tech to roll out of an R&D department that functions independent of sales, marketing, and manufacturing, almost like a startup incubator.

In every division—robotics, aviation, powersports, racing, power tools, automobiles, newfangled mobility—the company strip mines the uncanny valley, removing the boundaries between human and machine, while making the experience habitable and approachable. Consider Honda’s nearly 20-year project developing artificially intelligent, humanoid robots like Asimo. Or its geeky UniCUB stool-cum-unicycle, its self-stabilizing motorcycle, or its marginally medical Walking Assist motorized leg-supports.

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