Help! I’m having a heart attack! Those storied words, first uttered by someone who has long since been forgotten, have haunted and now inspired Honda’s leadership. Their inspiration has been swift, visionary, possibly comedic, and has led to a new feature.
Honda has developed “virtual towing,” a means by which one car can tow another without making a single physical connection. How can this be? Envision with us.
A driver is driving. He doesn’t feel well. Assumes it was the Cinnabon. Suddenly he knows: it wasn’t the Cinnabon! His chest is on fire. Something is wrong. What should he do?
With currently technology he can only do his best to simultaneously clutch his heart, grit his teeth and try to bring his car to a safe stop. But think about that. If you’re having a health emergency, how able are you to do things like check your blind spots and negotiate traffic? In the words of Harvey Danger, not hardly.
With virtual towing, all the driver has to do is press the SOS button. That’s it. The car will automatically engage its hazard lights, slow the car, and bring it to a stop, hopefully out of traffic. And then, the car does something interesting.
The car deploys an SOS signal that is relayed over the cellular network. Similarly equipped cars can see that signal. If someone volunteers to help, they can pull in front of you, engage virtual towing, and the stricken driver will be automatically towed. He or she doesn’t have to do a thing, doesn’t even have to press a button.
The Good Samaritan can then take the ill person to meet emergency responders, or go straight to a hospital. Thus, you don’t have to wait on an ambulance, nor do you have to worry about never being found if you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere.
As one automotive sage has recently noted, cars are transforming from being about transportation to being about technology. You’ll notice that in this example, the cars are doing a lot of communicating. Instead of the sick person having to make a phone call, the car did it. Nearby cars then received the message.
For the whole towing procedure, the cars have to talk to each other about speed, following distance, turn signals, braking, etc. Honda showed this ability at the Intelligent Transport Systems show in Detroit, and we hope to see it as soon as auto regulators approve vehicle-to-vehicle communication.