Published: January 27, 2023

Last fall, we learned about the latest Musk plan to integrate Valve’s Steam platform into Tesla vehicles, essentially turning the cars into mobile gaming devices. The market noticed, and now we are seeing a new gaming-centric vehicle slowly enter the arena. Taking a page from the Tesla playbook, Sony and Honda have now teamed up to create a new autonomous, smart car prototype set to transform in-vehicle entertainment as we know it. Their new joint venture, dubbed Afeela, is the latest partnership hitting the auto market aimed at getting ahead in the EV innovation race.

The brand unveiled its first model at CES 2023, designed to utilize Honda’s years of manufacturing experience alongside Sony’s state-of-the-art technology. But the sedan didn’t exactly ‘wow’ the crowd, and critics have taken note of some potential liability concerns associated with the gaming EV. And with these concerns comes the possibility of litigation, making it critical for those involved in this space to interact with experts to prepare for potential fallout in the face of the gaming EV race.

But before we begin to evaluate the legal risks associated with Honda and Sony’s electric vehicle’s eventual release, we must ask: what does Afeela’s first iteration entail? Let’s take a quick look.

What does Honda’s new EV include?

The reveal of the first Afeela gaming EV was spearheaded by Sony CEO, Kenichiro Yoshida, who envisions an entirely new in-cabin experience for their smart fleet of EVs. To do this, the Sony-Honda JV first planned to host Sony’s PlayStation 5 ecosystem in the vehicle. While there is still potential for this integration to come to pass before the vehicle’s official release, for now, the companies have partnered with Epic Games to utilize their ‘Unreal Engine’, a 3D computer graphics game engine. This will enhance the already robust AR/VR, UX, and UI capabilities presented by Sony, and enable the vehicle to provide intuitive navigation and a personalized in-car experience. In addition to gaming, passengers can also enjoy movie and music experiences.

The vehicle itself comes equipped with 45 Sony cameras and sensors, employed by Honda’s vehicle safety systems. The sedan will be built around Qualcomm’s chip technology, and it will be autonomous with Level 3 capabilities under limited conditions. While the overall design will remain mostly minimalistic, the Afeela vehicles boast one feature that other future-forward EVs don’t: the ‘Media Bar’. On the exterior of the car, the JV plans to implement a small display screen allowing passengers to interact with the outside environment by displaying messages, colors, charging status, and more. While this technology is certainly innovative, it also poses a variety of potential complications when it comes to security and safety.

What are the legal risks?

When Yoshida introduced the vehicle, he stated the company’s mobility philosophy, describing how the JV will be focusing on creating autonomous vehicles that are transformed into “moving entertainment spaces”. But in order to make these cars into the living rooms of the road, they will require robust wireless capabilities to support their systems. Further, the JV plans to lease its connected cars for up to ten years; since that spans much longer than the typical vehicle ownership, the leases will be pushed forward by ongoing over-the-air software updates and additions, which also require a stable, strong wireless connection. But wireless connections open the door to hackers and data corruption, and that’s not the only hack risk; gaming systems are invariably susceptible to cyber-attacks (Epic Games has experienced a few in the past), creating the opportunity for even greater breaches of security.

These types of vehicles also prompt an array of product liability concerns associated with their public, widespread use, and the potential for distracted driving issues. It is currently unclear whether Sony and Honda will prevent passengers and drivers from interacting with the entertainment system while the car is moving, but their autonomous capabilities will need to comply with guidelines set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to properly proceed with “true” moving entertainment.

In addition, their implementation of a media bar not only could distract those inside the car but could also affect those OUTSIDE of the vehicle who are attempting to see the display. Even if the JV prevents drivers from interacting with both the media bar and gaming system while the vehicle is moving, consumers will likely find workarounds for the block. Since current regulations don’t cover the risks associated with this type of technology, we should expect to see new directives regarding in-car entertainment coming soon.

Sony and Honda are just two of the many autonomous vehicle makers now looking to pursue an entertainment-based gaming EV. BMW has partnered with N-Dream to bring games to their dashboards, and Hyundai is collaborating with NVIDIA to implement cloud gaming in their future fleet. With more and more automakers entering this space, it is important to engage with experts both in the automotive and video gaming spaces to prepare for potential disputes. 

At WIT, we are working hard to continue identifying areas in the automotive and gaming spaces that will be ripe for potential disputes. Our team features industry insiders, game developers, computer scientists, software engineers, automotive engineers, and more with the expertise to provide industry and academic perspectives essential to any litigation. Contact us to learn more about how our experts can help you prepare for this future industry integration.

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