Everything starts from the beginning, and safety systems in cars are no exception. These systems used to operate independently in accordance to the driver’s input e.g. the brakes provide stopping power in accordance to how firm the driver steps on it and the steering system converted the driver’s input into directional changes. As electronic systems became available, there was a gradual ‘communication’ between various systems in the car so they could work better. This communication also applied to areas like the powertrain where the transmission control unit interfaced with the engine control unit for smoother shifting.
With electronic systems making it possible to network many different systems, Active Safety became more sophisticated. For example, electronic stability control systems simultaneously manage the brakes and engine power to prevent a car from spinning out of control. Sensors monitoring steering wheel movements and the forces acting on the car tell the computer what’s happening and it the sends signals to the brakes on specific wheels to create a counteracting force and stabilize the car’s tracking.
The multitude of safety systems has led to the manufacturers combining them into ‘suites’ that go by catchy names created by the marketing people. Honda’s suite is known as Honda SENSING, which can be traced back to 2013 when the company announced a Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS). Initially, CMBS was a standalone feature that helped to reduce the damaging effects of a rear-end collision but by 2014, Honda said that it was incorporated in the new Honda SENSING system.
The common element in Honda SENSING was the millimetre-wave radar, which sent out signals in a very narrow band. The signals received told the computer about conditions ahead, especially the vehicles and their speeds and distances away. Objects in the path of the vehicle could also be detected, and the computer would take the necessary action to warn the driver, slow down the car or activate the brakes if the driver did not act as expected.
Conventional cruise control systems simply kept the car travelling at a set speed by the driver, while more advance systems adjusts the throttle to compensate on slopes to maintain the speed chosen. The radar made it possible to eliminate this danger. By constantly determining the distance between vehicles, it was possible to adjust the cruising speed so that a safe gap would be maintained. When the vehicle ahead moved out of the way, or the driver changed lanes and there was no longer a vehicle ahead, the system would bring the cruising speed back up to what was set. This was called Adaptive Cruise Control and was first offered on more expensive models where new technological features usually appear.
However, the radar mounted in the grille cannot identify objects and ‘read’ signs and lane markings on the road. This is where Honda researchers turned to the monocular camera which was mounted on the windscreen, just behind the rearview mirror. With the camera collecting imagery, new capabilities were available and by ‘reading’ markings on the roads, it was possible to control the movements of the vehicle and keep it from wandering off the road. This would be useful if a driver became drowsy or was tired and lost concentration.
With both the radar and the camera installed, Honda had a superior system which was another step towards the realization of a collision-free society that the company envisioned. The pursuit of a collision-free society is a part of Honda’s global safety concept, ‘Safety for Everyone’.
The package or suite of different ‘driver-assistive’ systems called Honda SENSING was first introduced in the Legend, Honda’s flagship model, in early 2015. With extensive data processing power, the suite can integrate many systems and even add new ones, increasing the capabilities as time goes on. Depending on the market, Honda SENSING will have different systems in its suite although the primary ones which assist and prevent accidents are as follows:
♦ Adaptive Cruise Control + Low-Speed Follow
♦ Forward Collision Warning + Collision Mitigating Braking System
♦ Lane Departure Warning + Lane Keep Assist System
♦ Road Departure Mitigation
Honda SENSING was recognised as the technology that best contributes to safety by ASEAN NCAP, which gave Honda an award in the organization’s 2016 Grand Prix Awards. The award was among ten that the carmaker received, the most of any carmaker among those at the event.
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) has already been explained earlier and is the next evolution in cruise control which helps reduce driver fatigue on long journeys, especially on highways and can also improve fuel efficiency as a constant speed is maintained (although setting a very high speed would obviously result in high fuel consumption).
Low-Speed Follow (LSF) makes ACC even better by adjusting speeds within 0 to 30 km/h; in other words, if the car in front slows down and then stops, then the car will also stop behind it. And when it moves off, the car will start moving again, increasing the speed but always maintaining the safe gap (which can be adjusted by the driver). The driver does not have to do a thing other than steer the car when needed.
Honda SENSING’s Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is a more advanced cruise control system which not only adjusts the speed to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front at speeds between 30k/h and 180km/h, but can also operate right down to a standstill and resume when the vehicle ahead starts moving again in conjunction with LSF.
LSF, as the name indicates, works at low speeds and when the vehicle ahead progressively decelerates and stops. But what if it stops suddenly? This is where the Collision Mitigating Brake System (CMBS) comes in and strong braking force is automatically applied to reduce the speed quickly and reduce any damage in the case of collision. CMBS operates all the time (using the radar and camera for higher accuracy) and initially warns the driver with audio and visual signals on the instrument panel. If the gap starts to get dangerous, the system automatically applies gentle brake pressure to give a sensory warning to the driver. If the driver still does not brake, the system automatically brakes hard.
While CMBS can reduce the impact speed of a collision, it would be better not to be in a situation where the collision is likely to occur. This is where Forward Collision Warning (FCW) comes in as it alerts the driver of a dangerous situation with regards to the closing distance on the vehicle directly ahead. This is based on the speed at which the car is moving and the relative position to the vehicle ahead. The system will be useful should the driver be momentarily distracted and not pay attention to the speed of the car and the dangerous situation that suddenly arises. When FCW has done its job and the driver has still not acted correctly, then CMBS takes over right away.
The same system is also used by the Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) which will prevent the vehicle from unintentionally moving into another lane and possible colliding with other vehicles. LKAS will maintain the vehicle’s position between the left and right lines of the lane by gently making steering changes. This is where the integration of Honda SENSING comes in as the computer can take over control of the electric power steering system to make adjustments.
Lane Departure Warning (LDW) makes use of the camera which ‘reads’ the lines on the road. By constantly monitoring the position of the lines, the computer can determine if the vehicle is weaving to one side and likely to cross into another lane. This can occur if the driver is drowsy but the system is also smart enough to understand when there is a deliberate and sudden manoeuvre (like avoiding something) or when the driver is consciously wanting to move across to another lane and activates the signal lights. Whenever the computer determines that the vehicle’s path is going to leave the lane, the driver will be alerted. LDW works between 72 km/h and 180 km/h on straight roads and slightly curved roads.
Honda’s researchers took LDW further with the addition of Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) which is an advanced capability. An old solution to alerting drivers when their car wandered right to the edge of the road was to have ‘rumble strips’ that would cause a strange noise and alert the driver but with Honda SENSING’s RDM, a computer will take the necessary action while alerting the driver with audio alerts as well as vibrations in the steering wheel.
Should the vehicle continue in a direction that will take it off the road (as determined by lines at the edge of the road), and the driver has still not made any steering corrections, RDM will then make steering corrections to bring the vehicle back into the lane on the road. At the same time, some braking will also be applied to slow the vehicle down and prevent it from leaving the road completely.
LDW, RDM and LKAS could all be experienced in one run between two solid white lines to simulate a lane. The three systems are basically integrated and use the same camera to capture images of the road lines ahead. As the car wanders, warnings come on and some vibration comes through the steering wheel. When the wheels start to reach the edge, the steering wheel can be seen turning slightly and to redirect it back into the lane.
With the introduction of Honda SENSING in the new CR-V and the new Honda Accord 2.4 VTi-L Advance, Honda Malaysia is again leading the market with first-in-class safety systems. Where in the past, such advanced technology would only be available if you bought grey imports that were models for the Japanese domestic market (JDM), now Honda Malaysia offers it in a locally-assembled model. In time, Honda SENSING will no doubt be offered in other models, just as things like laminated windscreens and ABS started with expensive models and are now standard in most cars today.