Japanese motor manufacturer Honda said on Wednesday it will be the first to mass produce autonomous cars that will allow vehicles to navigate congested motorway traffic.
The planned new vehicles are what is known as “level 3” autonomous cars.
There are six levels of vehicle autonomy, from 0 to 5, ranging from manual cars or those with simple functions such as cruise control, to fully self-driving vehicles that would not need steering wheels, brakes or acceleration pedals.
At autonomy level 2 the vehicle can control both steering and accelerating/decelerating. Here the automation falls short of self-driving because a human sits in the driver’s seat and can take control of the car at any time.
Level 3 vehicles have ‘environmental detection’ capabilities and can make informed decisions for themselves, such as accelerating past a slow-moving vehicle. But they still require human override. The driver must remain alert and ready to take control if the system is unable to execute the task.
Honda said it is planning to launch sales of a Honda Legend luxury sedan equipped with the newly approved automated driving equipment before the end of March 2021.
The announcement follows a move by Japan’s government to award a safety certification to Honda’s autonomous ‘Traffic Jam Pilot’ driving technology, which legally allow drivers to take their eyes off the road.
“Self driving cars are expected to play a big role in helping reduce traffic accidents, provide transportation for the elderly and improve logistics,” said Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in a statement.
Despite the advances by Honda the market leader for autonomous car development unsurprisingly remains US firm Tesla.
In July, the electric vehicle maker said it was “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving – or full driving automation.
Despite the advances made by motor manufacturers, however, insurers are still wary as to the risks associated with autonomous vehicles.
In the UK, for example, the government has been told it should shelve plans to allow autonomous vehicles onto the country’s motorways amid fears that the systems are not advanced enough to ensure the safety.
Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have urged the government to revise its plans to introduce Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) onto UK roads in early 2021 because it will put road users’ lives at risk.
The concerns have been raised as both the functionality of ALKS technology and the regulations under which they will operate will mean that they cannot replicate what a competent and engaged human driver can do and, in the opinion of Thatcham Research and the ABI, are not safe enough to be classified as ‘Automated Driving’.
“The Government’s plan threatens road safety,” Matthew Avery, Thatcham Research Director of Research explained. “Motorists could feasibly watch television in their car from early next year because they believe their Automated Lane Keeping System can be completely trusted to do the job of a human driver.
“But that’s not the reality. The limitations of the technology mean it should be classified as ‘Assisted Driving’ because the driver must be engaged, ready to take over.”