Upcoming Honda Insight Turns Eco-Friendly Driving Into Game

insight-trophy1Every day, millions of car owners drive home, fire up their video game of choice, and devote more time and energy trying to win gold coins, magic swords, and other virtual rewards than they do behind the wheel. So what if their cars also came with game-like challenges, with virtual rewards linked to their real-world driving behavior?

That’s more or less the premise of the “Eco Assist” dashboard features on the 2010 Honda Insight hybrid. Much the way many video games have heads-up displays that change color according to the condition of a character’s health; the Insight’s speedometer readout has a crescent icon that changes hue based on the driver’s acceleration/deceleration rate, glowing green when it’s most fuel efficient, but turning blue as it becomes wasteful. Like a role-playing game, the driver’s behavior is also tallied over time, and displayed symbolically — here, in the form of an ivy-ringed trophy achievement that a driver can gradually unlock with green-friendly driving. It’s sort of like Wii Fit, but for cars.

These elements are the brainchild of Yasunari Seki, chief engineer for the new Insight. In previous projects, he discovered that a car’s fuel consumption varied by about 20 percent in real-world conditions. “The variance came from different manners of acceleration by individual drivers,” Seki-san told me via email through a Honda publicist/translator. That inspired his idea for a system that not only provided fuel-efficiency feedback, but could “actually help drivers to learn a better way of driving through instruments and electronic indications.”

This general idea took on game-like features after he explained it to his Insight development team, comprised of many younger engineers “who had played with computer games since infancy,” as he put it. They went on to manufacture displays that leverage “the human instinct of taking up a challenge.” If this works as planned, it will translate into hybrid cars that are even more fuel efficient and cost effective than they are now, and an environment that’s even greener.

Hat tip: Jeremy Liew for Lightspeed Venture Partners’ blog.