Much of the focus on autonomous driving has been on Tesla, Waymo and, perhaps to a lesser extent, General Motors. However, it may be time to shine the spotlight on Honda as it passed a new milestone: Level 3 autonomy.
The automaker just received approval from Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to use its new technology to drive vehicles under certain conditions on roads in the country, in this case during congested highway traffic.
The new tech, which it calls Traffic Jam Pilot, will be made available on its Honda Legend before March 31, 2021, which is the end of its fiscal year, according to the automaker. It’s not currently in use in the United States.
The system has to meet some minimum requirements to be used, including its use doesn’t compromise the safety of the vehicle’s occupants or other road users, adopt cyber security measures to prevent unauthorized access by hackers, a driver monitoring function, an operating recording device and a sticker on the back of the vehicle indicating it’s an automated vehicle.
Honda’s the first automaker to take advantage of changes to an amendment to Japan’s Road Vehicle Act allowing Level 3 autonomous vehicles on the road, however, the company said it had no plans to stop there.
“Honda will remain dedicated to the further development of safety technologies while striving to serve people worldwide with the joy and freedom of mobility, providing people with peace of mind and inspire their feeling of curiosity,” the company said in its release.
The MILT, which keeps tabs on all of the efforts by automakers in this arena, views this technology playing an important role in road safety in the future.
“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.
Autonomous vehicles come with six levels, ranging from 0 to 5. For example, Level 2 cars can control their own speed and steering but must have an alert driver able to take control at all times. Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise would be examples of Level 2 autonomous, which is typically described as semi-autonomous.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeated said the company’s full-service driving function will be operational by the end of this year, but it’s unlikely to be able to be used at that point, pending U.S. government (and other foreign governments) approval. The company plans to charge as much as $10,000 for the technology.