The electric, autonomous car of the future will have as much in common with your smartphone as your previous car, Honda believes, while claiming its far-out Neuv concept is closer to reality than many think.
Hond's next city car might not look exactly like the Neuv, which debuted at the CES technology show in January and had its first European outing at the Geneva motor show in March, but the thinking behind the concept is close to a near-future reality many car companies are driving use towards.
"We tried to understand what is so cool about smart devices," said Jared Hall, of Honda's US research division. Speaking to IBTimes UK in Geneva while we inspect the Neuv, Hall explains how the carmaker wants to appeal to millennials who lust after the solid, simple slabs of glass and aluminium they call smartphones, but who appear to show a waning interest in cars.
"These devices are very simple with a high gloss finish, blacks, metals, sometimes wood and leather for cases," Hall adds. "It's these very honest materials and minimalist design... we wanted to take this idea. People asked us to remove all the buttons and were like 'why can't [the interior] be like this?'" Hall holds up his smartphone.
It isn't just the external design of smartphones which Honda wants to mimic with its future cars, but also their personalisation, always-on connection to a world of other services, their ability to make payments, and their personal assistants.
The latter has already led to Hana ('flower' in Japanese, but also Honda's Automated Network Assistant), the concept for a voice-activated assistance system like the iPhone's Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa. Through this, plus heat sensors in the seats and cameras designed to read driver/passenger mood and concentration levels, future Hondas will understand how the driver is feeling and act accordingly – perhaps offering to take control if it sense the occupants are tired.
Creating an autonomous taxi service
Taking a similar path to Tesla and Elon Musk, Hall says Honda is looking into ways for owners of autonomous cars to let them out, Uber-style, to earn money and offset the costs of ownership. "We see [autonomous ride-sharing] as a potential future business. You can make money with this vehicle, to balance the cost of it you can rent it out." Hall adds: "I know it's radical, but a lot of people are really interested in that."
Moving away from autonomous city cars like the Neuv, Hall is also optimistic about the future of high performance cars like Honda's NSX supercar. Even with additional technologies – including autonomous driving – he believes driver enjoyment will remain intact, adding: "I think there is room for a vehicle like [the Neuv], and I think there is room in the future for a vehicle like the NSX with some kind of artificial intelligence as well, but that would be different. I won't speculate, but imagine what kind of things that would do to make the driving experience more fun and exhilarating."