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Honda Unveils World’s First Smart Intersection

Cameras over downtown Marysville advance automated driving

MARYSVILLE, Ohio — Honda has installed cameras atop four stoplight posts at the corner of Main Street and Fifth Avenue here in a $2 million pilot program that will advance development of automated and autonomous cars. The world’s first Smart Intersection is a co-development with the city of Marysville and Drive Ohio, the state’s autonomous technology agency.

The technology is called “vehicle-to-everything,” or V2X. The cameras, which can pick up emergency vehicles, pedestrians in the walkway, and potential red-light violators from about 100 meters, or one city block, and warn drivers who can’t see them from around buildings and other obstructions, were installed and activated last February 17.

“The key part of this technology is that it’s able to sense things that you can’t see,” said Jim Keller, Honda Research & Development Americas chief engineer. “It’s able to do things our eyes can’t do, our ears can’t do, so this technology moves us beyond where any onboard sensor is today.”

The intersection has tall buildings on each of the four corners, up to five floors, and relatively heavy pedestrian traffic, making it a “perfect site” for the test, said Sue Bai, principle engineer for Honda R&D Americas.

In the eight months since the cameras were installed, they have been used to warn about 200 Honda employees from the assembly plant nearby who have had special aftermarket head-up displays added to their dashboards. Honda is downloading data from the aftermarket HUDs, and is logging its employees’ experiences with the V2X technology.

There is no set end-date for the pilot program. The automaker demonstrated the V2X Smart Intersection for journalists and politicians, including Governor John Kasich, on Thursday.

In the first scenario, a Honda Pilot in which we were riding approached a busy intersection, and the HUD displayed a generic traffic-symbol style pedestrian in the walkway as the Pilot’s driver began to turn right. A computerized voice backed up the visuals with a warning of the pedestrian crosswalk.

The second scenario warned the driver of an emergency vehicle, which was an emergency ambulance.

In the third scenario, as the Pilot approached a green light on Main Street, crossing Fifth Avenue, a silver Audi A4 sped from the left, blowing past its red light as the cameras fed a warning to the Honda SUV’s HUD and audio system.

Honda’s Smart Intersection demonstration is not connected to the automaker’s announcement Wednesday that it is partnering with General Motors and its Cruise autonomous vehicle program on a future project. In that project, GM and Cruise will supply the autonomous technology, while Honda will design the vehicle with a small exterior footprint, and a relatively large interior, in the vein of its Fit subcompact.

While the Smart Intersection is the type of technology that can potentially save many lives, it’s pretty low-key, especially to an auto journalist used to demonstrations of acceleration and handling prowess. The advantage of the stoplight-mounted cameras is that they can communicate with new cars and trucks that will soon be built with V2X capabilities even as 80 percent to 90 percent of the other vehicles on the road were built without it, noted Ted Klaus, Honda R&D Americas vice president for strategic research. Honda has committed to bringing SAE Level 3 advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) vehicles to market in 2020, and Level 4 ADAS by 2025.

The add-on HUD making the in-car V2X communication possible is expensive in prototype form, but costs will come down as it’s mass-produced. As for the smart intersection camera technology, that will be up to cities and states willing to spend on technology to make streets safer for pedestrians and motorists, which is why Honda counts Marysville and the State of Ohio as partners in the project. There are no plans yet announced to expand the pilot program. The technology can be scaled up to accommodate much larger cities with heavier traffic, Keller, the chief engineer, noted.

Governor Kasich said that as the father of twin daughters who recently graduated high school to go on to college, he looks forward to safer, more automated traffic.

“Your kids are going to be safer, you’re going to be safer and there’s going to be a whole new set of jobs that pay better,” Kasich said, referring to the need for installation and maintenance of such equipment, even as professional truck drivers, delivery drivers and cab drivers are replaced with driverless vehicles. “Ohio has been at the forefront, pushing the technology for some time.”

Also speaking at the Smart Intersection presentation, John Bozella, president and CEO of The Association of Global Automakers in Washington, D.C., presented Kasich with a plaque in the form of a vanity license plate with the governor’s name on it. He commented on President Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), replacing NAFTA.

“We have a new agreement that’s pretty much the same as the old agreement, with a couple of improvements,” he said.

Kasich, who was the last Republican challenger to Donald J. Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, and is considered a potential challenger again in 2020, riffed off of Bozella’s USMCA comments.

“While we don’t like unfair trade practices that we sometimes see,” Kasich said, as he accepted his license plate, “it’s important that we work together as a world that supports free trade. As a world, we can overcome some of the unfair practices. The more we work together, the better chance we have for achieving peace and advancement of mankind.”

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