At CES 2023, Sony and Honda introduced the first car created by their Sony Honda Mobility partnership. The name they have chosen for their creation is AFEELA, which may be the worst name for a car since the Jowett Jupiter. [We here at CleanTechnica dislike cutesy car names that are spelled in all caps or all small letters, so henceforth we shall refer to this car as Afeela.] The show car last year promised an immersive, interactive driving experience modeled on what people who use a Sony PlayStation might expect. This year, the Afeela was back and ready to show off its computer assisted chops.
Last year, the companies offered no technical specs for the Afeela concept. A year later, we are told the car, when it enters production, will have a 91 kWh lithium ion battery and two 180 kW (240 hp) permanent magnet synchronous motors, one in the front and one in the rear. Afeela says the sedan is capable of DC charging at up to 150 kW, with AC charging maxing out at 11 kW.
The air suspension is supported by unequal length control arms up front and a multi-link setup at the rear. The front tires measure 245/40 and the rear rubber is listed at 275/35, with the Afeela riding on 21-inch wheels all around, reports Car and Driver [which also refuses to use the all caps name for the car]. The 2024 concept appeared more production ready than last year’s show car, with actual side view mirrors in place of the cameras and headlights that are more realistic than those on the earlier car. The Afeela is set to go into production in 2025 with sales beginning in 2026. A starting price of $45,000 has been hinted at.
Afeela Adds AI And Gaming Technology
That’s it — the sum total of all the information Sony and Honda think we need to know about the car itself. That’s because the Afeela is not about driving. It is about being entertained to the nth degree while being wafted from place to place inside a personal cocoon. Everything else is largely irrelevant.
What’s important — at least to the folks at Sony Honda Mobility — is that over the past year, they have gotten together with Epic Games, Microsoft, and Polyphony Digital to create a car with maximum entertainment capabilities, which was hinted at when this year’s concept was driven onstage not by a human behind the wheel but by a human using a PlayStation controller.
Thanks to the Unreal Engine digital technology from Epic Games, the Afeela will feature a video game-like GPS and navigation system where the driver can activate the road maps to look like they’re playing as they cruise. The data captured from the advanced sensors of the electric car is translated into real-time 3D objects and allows the drivers to view their current location from any angle.
The driver and front seat passengers can choose to be regaled by playful visual additives, such as monsters popping out of buildings or adding undersea effects in the driving screen. Aside from having an immersive cabin and driving experience with Epic Games, Sony Honda Mobility is also joined by Microsoft for the artificial intelligence to give the driver their personal mobility agent.
Speak To Me, Afeela!
According to Designboom, the companies and Microsoft have developed a conversational personal agent for Afeela that uses the Azure OpenAI service. The voice enabled system with a realistic human-like accent and tone allows drivers to talk to their personal mobility agent as if they were chatting with a real person. Other technologies installed in the cabin include large infotainment screens for everyone, a noise canceling interior resembling soundproof cinemas, and Sony’s spatial audio throughout the seats and cabin.
The Afeela will come with ultra-wideband sensors and cameras. As the driver approaches, the car greets them with a light and automatically opens the doors. Once inside, Afeela runs an authentication process to make sure the driver is the right owner and sets up the destination and route map on a panoramic display. As they drive, the sensors and cameras monitor every angle, watching traffic conditions and providing driving assistance based on the external data acquired.
Sony Honda Mobility uses the potential of AI, sensors, and cameras by giving Afeela the ability to park itself autonomously when the driver leaves the car. At CES 2024, Sony Honda Mobility president, and COO Izumi Kawanishi told the press that Afeela also features a thematic cabin that allows the driver to choose a certain theme for their driving experience. The car will then automatically change its lighting, sound, and display to correspond to the chosen theme.
Outside, an LED light strip at the front of the car acts as an external information display. It can alert anyone outside the car about certain information such as flashing a warning sign if the vehicle is too close to a rear bumper, projecting the battery percentage, or playing animated sequences to make it look like billboard advertising on the go.
I must be getting old (well, technically, we all are). To me, the whole Sony/Honda Afeela thing is stupid. I don’t want my car to be a substitute for my living room. I don’t want monsters popping out of buildings as I drive or undersea creatures swimming across the dashboard. This car is too clever by half, as my old Irish grandmother would say.
Maybe I am just more curmudgeonly than usual, but while putting this story together, I was transported back in time to 1994, when Jimmy Buffett released his Fruitcakes album. It opened with a monologue — more of a diatribe, actually — about the modern world and the efforts of marketers who thought they were smarter than the rest of trying to engineer our personal environment to satisfy their vision of what it should be. Buffett said,
Take for example when you go to the movies these days, you know? They try to sell you this jumbo drink, 8 extra ounces of watered down cherry coke for an extra 25 cents. I don’t want it. I don’t want that much organization in my life. I don’t want other people thinking for me.
When I hear about all the geewizardry baked into the Afeela, I know exactly what Jimmy meant. This is not a car, it is a rolling entertainment device. Cars are meant to be driven. Drivers are supposed to be in control. Machines should not be thinking for us or having conversations with us, or spritzing exotic scents in the passenger compartment to soothe us, or stimulate us, or make us think we are on a Caribbean beach frolicking with dolphins.
Clearly I am not this car’s target audience. Quite frankly, the whole concept offends me. If you haven’t got time to drive a car, then take a bus, or walk, ride a bike, or call a taxi. Driving is supposed to require our attention. If you can’t do that, please get out and go into the house where you can play with your PlayStation until the break of day. Afeela, I’m not feelin’ ya.