Honda unveils its strategy for self-driving cars late in the game
Self-driving car development is potentially the biggest trend gripping the automotive world, and unsurprisingly, nearly every major automaker has outlined some sort of bold strategy to be among the first autonomous systems to hit the roads.
Honda, one of the biggest automakers in the world, has been one of the least active players in the game. A recent report ranking the entrants in the self-driving development space listed the Japanese company at the back of the pack at 15, well behind the rest of its more traditional peers. Honda also hasn’t been part of any of the blockbuster deals that have shaped the field, outside of a reported partnership with Google’s Waymo to provide cars for development.
Honda’s now ready to share some more details about its self-driving strategy with the public. The automaker just announced a 2025 target for a near-total autonomous system, which builds off its previously publicized plans for a platform that can handle highway driving by 2020. These are just the first steps in Honda’s goal to eliminate traffic collisions by 2040 — but compared to its competitors, it’s a few laps behind.
Honda’s shorter term goals aim for Level 3 autonomy. That means that the car can handle some basic driving features on its own (like the freeway driving function Honda’s teasing), but a human operator is necessary for higher-level actions and decision making, especially in situations like stop-and-go urban traffic.
The longer term goal, Level 4 autonomy, describes an autonomous system where the car handles every single aspect of control. It’s not totally self-driving, though — in certain situations, like bad weather or road conditions, a human will need to take the wheel.
The automaker dropped a new video showing off a demo of the autonomous system driving itself on a closed course highway in Japan, along with some footage of the vehicle navigating some stops and turns on local streets.
The highway demo looks more like the Level 3 capacity, while the latter half of the demo on closed streets looked to be more advanced. That was conducted using Honda’s specialized AI and cameras rather than the typical suite of LiDAR and GPS, which the company said is designed with Deep Learning capabilities to help respond to factors you won’t find on the freeway, like poorly marked streets and pedestrians.
Honda’s goals for its self-driving program are similar to those of its peers — but its target dates are much further down the road.
Ford, which topped the aforementioned self-driving development rankings, is aiming for a 2021 rollout for a Level 4 autonomous platform, beating Honda by four years. Tesla, meanwhile, hopes to demo the highest tier of autonomy, Level 5 (truly self-driving cars), by the end of 2017, and claims that the autonomous hardware on its current fleet can handle every driving task once the software catches up. That quickly-approaching target date might come and pass without the demo as just another one of Elon Musk’s overambitious predictions — but in a race like this, it pays to get out of the gate early.