When Honda founders Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa first met, the former said to the latter, “The means of transportation must respect human life.” He also said, “I want to make valuing human life the top priority—and the very foundation—of this company.”
Soichiro Honda also spoke to associates in 1984 of the importance of “being aware of what it means to be a company that makes products to which people entrust their lives” as the origin of Honda. “I want to get back to our roots and reassess whether we're truly, ultimately thinking about this in every aspect of our operations,” he said. “I want to change how we think, from top management down to the designer drafting drawings.” Soichiro Honda's philosophy concerning safety can be summed up as the idea that a company that makes products to which people entrust their lives must give top priority to the safety of its customers.
Soichiro Honda's approach has been passed down to today's Honda developers, who give top priority to customer safety while respecting “going to the actual place,” “knowing the actual situation,” and “being realistic” above all else. They do not base decisions on regulations. If something is lacking, they create it. The cumulative effect of this approach has been to create numerous proprietary Honda technologies that are the first of their kind. This section draws from initiatives undertaken as part of the company's safety research to introduce some of the technologies Honda has led the world in developing.
Honda equipped the 1987 Legend with the first airbag system to be used on any domestically produced vehicle
Honda began conducting research into airbags as early as 1971, well before the technology began to attract interest in Japan. After 16 years of effort, we completed the first airbag system to be used on a domestically produced vehicle. The reason Honda spent so much time on researching an unprecedented airbag system was its belief that a safety system cannot be permitted to malfunction. We set ourselves the task of achieving a failure rate of one in a million—in other words, of achieving a success rate of 99.99999%, as close as you get to zero failures in the world of engineering.
Through the steady accumulation of technologies that resulted from this approach, Honda achieved the ultimate level of reliability. The first airbag system to be incorporated into a domestically produced vehicle was introduced on the 1987 Legend and saw rapid adoption and widespread use starting in the mid-1990s.
Artist's conception of SH-AWD
Cars change their direction of movement by changing the orientation of their front wheels, but they would be able to turn even more rationally if they could also change the orientation of their rear wheels. This is the mechanism used by the 4 Wheel Steering (4WS) system, which employs all four tires to turn. In 1987, Honda succeeded in commercializing the theory behind 4WS on a commercially available vehicle. In addition to improving the car's turning performance, 4WS made a significant contribution to safety, for example by making it possible for the vehicle to respond immediately to evasive action taken by drivers attempting to avoid a hazard. Then in 2004, we developed Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive, or SH-AWD, the world's first 4WD mechanism to enable independent control of traction at all four wheels. SH-AWD technology was inspired by the way animals forcibly kick their rear outside leg to turn with greater agility while running. This innovation further boosted vehicle turning performance and safety.
The POLAR III third-generation pedestrian test dummy, which embodies the hopes of its developers
In 1988, Honda embarked on a program of research into how to protect pedestrians. It became clear to researchers that they needed a full-body model of a pedestrian in order to properly assess accident mechanisms. However, at the time, tools for this type of research were lacking. Deciding that they had no choice but to create the necessary tools themselves, Honda's engineers developed a life-size pedestrian test dummy known as POLAR. In 1998, we announced the first-generation POLAR I, which was designed to reproduce the movements of a pedestrian's head when struck by a car. In 2000, we developed POLAR II, which was capable of evaluating injuries to the knee and leg. Then in 2008, we announced the third, and current, generation of the technology, which can evaluate lower back and thigh injuries with a high degree of precision.
Honda's developers have but one hope: that the “counter-vehicle” technologies analyzed with POLAR test dummies will be put to good use in the research and development not only of Honda vehicles, but of all vehicles that share our roads, thereby gradually improving the safety of the most vulnerable users of those roads.
Honda's indoor omnidirectional Real World Crash Test Facility, which rivals Tokyo Dome in area, provides a total of 40,000 square meters of floor space
Honda decided to build a large-scale, indoor collision testing facility at the research center in order to allow all engineers involved in developing cars to view the reality of collision accidents that occur in the real world between cars and between cars and pedestrians. An indoor facility was chosen out of consideration for workers, but designers realized that presence of structural support columns inside the building would impose constraints on the range of tests that could be carried out. When they pursued the ideal of an expansive, column-free indoor space that would facilitate the reproduction of a variety of collisions, they ended up creating a facility of unprecedented characteristics. Although the construction process was faced with challenges at every step due to the unique nature of the project, the construction company prevailed by dint of sheer hard work and technological creativity, and the world's first indoor testing facility capable of simulating car-to-car collisions under real-world conditions from every angle was completed in April 2000. Honda has since continued to pursue this type of collision safety research. This effort is reflected in the realization of our proprietary compatibility body, which is designed to deliver a higher level of self-protection performance for protecting vehicle occupants during a collision while simultaneously reducing the impact on other vehicles.
CMBS assists in safe driving, never taking a break or looking anywhere but the road ahead while the car is being driven
The Collision Mitigation Brake System (CMBS), which debuted in 2003, is another first-of-its-kind function born of Honda's desire to eliminate automobile accidents. All drivers are prone to occasionally lose their focus on the road in front of them due to inattention. When unexpected movement of a preceding vehicle coincides with such an instant of inattention so that the driver realizes what's happening a moment too late, a rear-end collision can result. At such times, CMBS serves as the driver's assistant by helping the car avoid the hazard. Millimeter-wave radar, which works well in all weather conditions, detects information such as the distance to obstructions in front of the vehicle as well as the difference in speed between the car and obstructions over a distance of about 100 meters. When the system determines that the vehicle is at increased risk of a collision, it communicates this hazard to the driver by means of an audio tone and dashboard display. If it further determines that it will be difficult to avoid the hazard, it slows the vehicle by automatically applying the brakes. To make it easier to avoid hazards, the driver must be warned as soon as possible. However, the sooner a warning is issued, the larger the prediction range becomes, increasing the frequency at which warnings perceived by the driver as unnecessary are issued. We formulated the optimal timing for such assistance by driving test vehicles in a variety of environments, including in urban areas and on expressways, for extended periods of time.
Viewed with naked eye
Viewed with Intelligent Night Vision System
Honda's intelligent night vision system, which was completed in 2004, was the first system of its kind in the world to display difficult-to-see pedestrians in front of the vehicle with video and alert the driver with an audio warning and a highlighted display. Honda began developing the system around 1996. At the time, video from infrared cameras, which provided visibility of several hundred meters even in complete darkness, offered an impressive new capability. However, simply displaying video of difficult-to-see pedestrians was not a solution since such an approach required the driver to continuously monitor the video, keeping his or her eyes focused on the dashboard too much and outside the vehicle too little. Honda therefore began developing technology for detecting pedestrians, but no similar technology was available at the time. In such situations, Honda's engineers are inclined to make whatever doesn't already exist themselves. After about 10 years of development work, they were able to provide functionality for alerting the driver to pedestrians shown on a video display with an audio warning and highlighting. By instantly alerting drivers to the presence of pedestrians but not requiring them to pay attention to the video all the time, the system allows them to focus their attention on what's happening in front of the vehicle, only looking at the video when necessary.
Honda's motorcycle airbag system, the first of its kind
Honda developed the world's first airbag system to be included on mass-produced motorcycles in 2005 and began mass-producing and selling the system in 2006.
The research project for the system, which cushions the impact if the rider is thrown forward in the event of a frontal collision, began in 1989.
Although the conventional wisdom at the time was that motorcycles could not be equipped with airbags, some thought that the possibility could not be dismissed so easily. Although an airbag system for motorcycles could use the same basic components and airbag materials as an automobile SRS airbag system, project engineers had to grapple with the fundamental difficulty of figuring out how to use the airbags effectively. The current airbag system, which has been designed based on numerous anticipated accident types so as to reduce rider injury, was completed after 16 years of trial and error.