Honda has announced a target date of 2025 to introduce cars that are capable of driving themselves in most situations.
The automaker said by that date it will produce vehicles that achieve SAE Level 4 automation, meaning they can operate without driver input under almost all road and traffic conditions. SAE defines this level is as "driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene." In other words, even though a driver is present, if something goes wrong, the vehicle can handle itself.
Honda demonstrated its progress toward that goal in two driving scenarios at its research and development facility in Japan. In one demonstration, a test vehicle equipped with a suite of cameras and sensors autonomously negotiated a multilane freeway in the presence of other traffic. A second demo involved a self-driving car wending its way through a typical suburban environment, avoiding traffic, making turns, and responding to road signs with the help of camera sensors and artificial intelligence.
"We will strive to achieve the technological establishment of Level 4 automated driving for personal car use by around 2025," said Takahiro Hachigo, Honda's president and CEO, in a statement. "We are striving to provide our customers with a sense of confidence and trust by offering automated driving that will keep vehicles away from any dangerous situation and that will not make people around the vehicle feel unsafe."
Honda had previously stated that by 2020 it will introduce cars able to function at SAE Level 3, in which the vehicle handles all "safety critical" processes, with the driver intervening only as necessary. The automaker confirmed those plans and said that this latest goal builds on the earlier plan.
SAE Level 0 refers to no automation whatsoever. At Level 1, the driver is primarily in control, with the vehicle lending assistance, and at Level 2 the car is able to control steering and speed while the driver monitors road conditions and manages other functions. The final step is Level 5 automation, which refers to a fully autonomous vehicle, able to monitor road and traffic conditions and react accordingly in all situations.
Level 1 involves familiar technology, such as cruise control. Level 2 is becoming more common, with many automakers offering systems such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assist as either standard or optional equipment. So far, Level 3 vehicles exist only as test platforms since the big advancement in this category is that the car is able to "read" situations and make complex decisions. For example, rather than braking to avoid a slow-moving vehicle ahead, the car decides if it's safe to pass, then changes lanes and accelerates around it.
Level 4, where Honda says it's headed by 2025, is another big leap. At this point, the car is fully in charge, although generally within defined parameters, such as a well-mapped geographical area or an open highway. Level 5 is the holy grail of vehicle autonomy. As previously reported by Edmunds, some researchers, including those at Google, think cars at this level will operate so independently they won't even need steering wheels or emergency brakes. Needless to say, Level 4 and 5 vehicles are also still in the testing stages.