A year since Sony Honda Mobility (SHM) announced its debut EV concept, the Afeela, the company is back at CES 2024 in Las Vegas to offer more details, more collaborations and a driving simulator.
The name of the concept vehicle hasn’t changed since last we saw it. What is new, however, is the car's ability to be driven around with a PlayStation controller. I didn’t get to do that — it was a stunt operated by one of the company's employees — but there was a DualSense controller involved in my demo.
So let’s begin where SHM left off. At last year’s CES 2023, Sony revealed the Afeela Concept EV, which packed in 45 cameras and an expansive “media bar” that spread across the vehicle's dash, showing a mix of car information, navigation, music players and more. The steering wheel was redesigned as a yoke so that the driver can better view that sumptuous dash. The company also further teased some mixed-reality tricks in collaboration with Epic Games.
The Afeela EV itself looks mostly the same as the prototype from last year, although it now has a substantial LiDAR bar above the windscreen that looks like a giant smartphone notch. The company says that the car will be available for pre-order in 2025 before going on sale in the US the following year.
At CES 2024, I got to step inside an Afeela, while an SHM representative gave me a tour of everything that’s so far been crammed into this concept vehicle.
Combining both Sony and Honda’s expertise, the Afeela will create its own noise cancellation bubble, apparently “tailoring the cabin for entertainment” using Sony’s Spatial Audio technology. According to SHM’s renders, there appear to be roughly 30 speakers, although that’s more than likely to change as the concept further evolves. A spokesperson added that over 42 sensors grace the Afeela’s initial spec sheet.
In one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had at CES, I also got to play Horizon Forbidden West on the Afeela's expansive dashboard display. No, there isn’t a PS5 baked into this concept EV — why not, though? — but a demonstration involving PlayStation’s long-running Remote Play feature. Sure, the Bluetooth connection to the controller was temperamental (CES is just hundreds of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals clashing), but conceptually, you get that it’s possible. The two screens for passengers sitting in the rear would also be able to display games, movies and more; however they were just dummy screens in this demo car.
SHM also announced during Sony’s CES show that it’s already teamed up with Microsoft to use its Azure OpenAI technology to create a “Mobility Personal Agent” — a conversational in-car virtual assistant for drivers and passengers alike.
It’s also working with Polyphony Digital, the company behind Gran Turismo, on a nebulous goal of developing vehicles that “fuse the virtual and the real, mainly in the area of human senses.” For now, that collaboration has resulted in an Afeela you can drive in Gran Turismo.
But it’s the new dash, combined with AR graphics overlays and that LiDAR notch, which intrigues me most. The EV will draw information and imagery from its sensors and create 3D models of the outside world. This can be used for frivolous things, like Godzilla-styled monsters on your dashcam feed and augmented reality games. Or more simply, rich, detailed overlays for navigation to nearby businesses and destinations.
While we weren’t driving the Afeela EV around Las Vegas, SHM tried to offer the next best thing: a car simulator made in collaboration with Epic Games (and what appears to be that Unreal Engine 5 Matrix demo). Steering around the virtual world, in an Aveela cockpit (in a moody black colorway, different from the light gray showroom car I sat in earlier), the digital wing mirrors also displayed the same highly realistic 3D world. The dash display then offered an AR overlay, showing vehicles, objects and pedestrians, flagging nearby hazards in red.
SHM is still putting a lot of its focus on developing its autonomous driving technology and advanced driver assistance systems, the latter are non-autonomous helper features, similar to Tesla’s Autopilot. With Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Ride SoC powering the concept vehicle’s advanced driving features, the Afeela could reach limited Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities. At that point (and we’re not there yet) a vehicle can manage most aspects of driving without any human intervention. A spokesperson added it would be capable of Level 2 Plus autonomous driving in urban settings. SHM also teased traffic monitoring through the sensors, detection for objects like traffic cones, and apparently, using what it calls a Vision Transformer that will work to detect environmental characteristics “in a broader perspective” — this could translate into predicting future traffic jams before you meet them or alternative driving routes.
The car will also utilize all those sensors more frivolously, to detect drivers' approach and open the door for them. The same sensors, including LiDAR and cameras, will guide the Afeela as it parks itself.
Many of us still wonder if SHM’s EV will ever exist as a consumer vehicle. The commitment to getting its car on roads by 2026 is still there, and while CES may be the perfect audience for the hype being served up, will car buyers think the same?
We're reporting live from CES 2024 in Las Vegas from January 6-12. Keep up with all the latest news from the show here.