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Modified Honda Odyssey Minivans Deployed in Detroit for COVID-19 Testing

Honda has delivered 10 modified Odyssey minivans to the City of Detroit for the purpose of transporting healthcare workers and those potentially infected with COVID-19. To protect the driver from potential infection, the Odyssey vans were retrofitted with a plastic barrier behind the front seating area. Additional modifications to the ventilation system allow for a proper air pressure differential between the front and rear seating areas.

City officials say the modified Odyssey vans will play a critical role in transporting local residents and healthcare workers to COVID-19 testing.

“As of today, the City of Detroit has tested over 20,000 residents and employees for COVID-19,” said Mayor Mike Duggan, City of Detroit. “Transportation is a critical component of ensuring every Detroiter has access to a test. We are very appreciative of Honda for choosing Detroit to deploy these newly modified vehicles.”

“When we developed our transportation service to the COVID-19 testing sites, we quickly realized that a lack of separation between the driver and passenger would be a limiting factor in our capacity to transport patients,” added Mark de la Vergne, Chief of Mobility Innovation for the City of Detroit. “This innovation from the Honda team will be critical to transporting passengers during this time.”

Conceiving The Idea

After seeing news reports about similar vehicles modified by Honda in Japan, officials from the state of Michigan and the City of Detroit approached Honda in the U.S. in mid-April. A team of volunteers at Honda’s R&D center in Raymond, Ohio, including senior engineers and fabrication experts, quickly conceived and designed a method to modify the U.S. Odyssey at the Honda R&D Americas center in Raymond, Ohio, where it was originally developed. 

The Odyssey minivan modified in Japan is a smaller vehicle than the eight-seat U.S. version of the Honda Odyssey. However, the Honda team in Ohio took the project from the initial concept to completion in less than two weeks. All material fabrication and installation, and adjustments to the software for the Odyssey’s ventilation system, was done entirely in-house.

“We’re very proud of the efforts made by Honda engineers in Ohio to quickly devise a plan and modify a small fleet of Honda Odyssey minivans to support the people of Detroit in the face of this unprecedented global pandemic,” said Rick Schostek, Executive Vice President of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. “This project is one of many initiatives being undertaken by Honda and our associates to support communities throughout the country during this very difficult time.”

“Honda’s speed in addressing this challenge, paired with Detroit’s willingness to find and detail a use case for Honda, made this a model public-private partnership,” explained Trevor Pawl, Senior Vice President at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and head of PlanetM, the state’s mobility initiative. “The state’s goal is to conduct 15,000 tests a day. This kind of ingenuity will help us get there faster.”

HondaDetroit COVID19
Photo: Honda North America.

Honda Odyssey Modification Process

Honda’s engineers in Ohio installed a sealed clear polycarbonate (plastic) panel between the front and rear seats by removing the handgrips on the structural roof pillar (B-pillar), behind the first row. The handgrips were replaced with new brackets to attach the clear panel. A second attachment bracket was fabricated and attached to the lower front seat belt anchor point for a total of three secure attachments on each side.

The software that controls the ventilation system on the current Odyssey was designed previously by Honda R&D engineers in Ohio. As a result, the engineers were able to better tune the software for an air pressure differential compliant with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (for negative pressure rooms in medical and research facilities). 

Specifically, the software in the modified Odyssey vans runs the blower motor powering the fans in the front faster than the fans in the rear. The resulting air pressure differential creates a more negative pressure chamber in the rear seating area (rear compartment air is also exhausted out of the rear vents). This air pressure differential between the front and rear greatly reduces the potential for droplet infection and migration during transportation.

“Several members of our team have family members or friends working in the medical field to battle COVID-19 or know people who have family members battling COVID-19 infection and this became a very personal challenge to help potential victims and their families,” said Mike Wiseman, Senior Director for Strategic and Materials Research of Honda R&D Americas, LLC, who led the project. “At Honda, we believe the purpose of technology is to help people and make their lives better and we were humbled to make this commitment to potentially help save lives.” 

“As the conveners of the Detroit Mobility Coalition in partnership with the City for the past several years, MICHauto is committed to facilitating connections such as this to benefit our communities,” added Glenn Stevens, Executive Director, MICHauto and Vice President, Automotive and Mobility Initiatives, Detroit Regional Chamber. “This partnership with Honda in a time of crisis is an ideal example of the importance of our mobility ecosystem to connect our local and state leadership and automotive and mobility industry together. MICHauto is pleased to play a role in helping to facilitate this information and technology transfer.”

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Photo: Honda North America.

Honda’s Response to COVID-19:

Honda has undertaken several initiatives to harness the spirit of community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Honda has teamed up with Dynaflo Inc. to produce diaphragm compressors, a key component of portable ventilators that are used in hospitals and by first responders to help those stricken with the COVID-19 virus. The companies aim to produce 10,000 compressors per month once production reaches capacity.
  • Honda associates have been deploying the company’s 3D printers to produce components for face shields at various company operations, with Honda engineers now working on a method to mass-produce the frames for face shields in Honda facilities.
  • Ten Honda facilities in North America donated over 200,000 items of Personal Protective Equipment to support healthcare providers and first responders, including gloves, face shields, N95 protective masks, alcohol wipes, half-mask respirators, and other types of protective gear.
  • Honda has pledged $1 million to address food insecurity in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, providing donations to food banks and meal programs.
  • Honda also has initiated a COVID-19 Special Matching Gift Program that enables associates to make monetary donations to food programs in their local communities, matching up to $1,000 for each individual associate. The matching fund is in addition to Honda’s $1 million pledge.

Photos & Source: Honda North America.