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Honda launches first self-driving level 3 car in the world



TOKYO — TOKYO The new car with the world’s first certified autonomous technology of level 3 will be launched on Friday by Honda Motor, paving the way to preparate efforts for the automotive industry to commercialize such automation for passenger cars.

Industry professionals watch carefully to see if the Legend, a luxury sedan which, under certain conditions operates without driver supervision but requires that the driver take over the car within seconds, can capture sufficient demand to offer other manufacturers a way ahead.

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On Thursday, at an online press event Honda unveiled the Legend.

“The majority of accidents involve human mistake, and if we can mitigate driver stress and fatigue, then driving will be more exciting,” said Yoichi Sugimoto, Head of driver aid technologies at Honda R&D.

“We want the driving burden to be reduced. Honda Sensing is entering a new phase, “He added, referring to the technology for driving aid for Honda.

In November, Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism approved the new model’s Traffic Jam Pilot system. When traveling slower than 50 kilometers an hour, drivers can be released from congested driving.

Data from high-definition mapping and external sensors are used by the system to accelerate, break and steer automatically during monitoring the vehicle environment.

In the process, the driver can use the navigation screen and benefit from infotainment for the vehicle, however, the system needs to respond to the request for a handover if the vehicle accelerates following the jam.

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Sugimoto said, “The driver and the system will share the driving task. The “First step” for the Traffic Jam Pilot is how self-sufficient driving on the Japanese market is welcomed.

To introduce this cutting-edge function, Honda adopts a cautious approach. Only 100 units, available for rent only, will be produced. The price is 11 million yen (102,000 dollars).

Another reason why the process has been limited is to “explain this new technology clearly,” Kimiyoshi Teratani, who runs Honda’s Japanese business, said.

Honda said it simulated approximately 10 million events and conducted test drives on highways in the development of the car over approximately 1.3 million kilometres.

It also sets the speed limit significantly less than the regulations allow 60 kph.

The technology for Level 3 “is sure to be necessary in the future,” Sugimoto said. He said that it would eventually go to one of Honda’s top-selling models, “hopefully in a decade or two.”

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The car also offers several features for “level 2” driving, such as hands-off driving in a front of a car or a change of paths. The model also comes with an emergency terminal system that decelerates and stops the car in a safe location if the driver does not respond to an acquisition request.

So-called mobility level 4 services, including Waymo, owned by Google’s parent Alphabet, and Chinese Baidu, are already offered or widely tested to the players. Theoretically, such services do not even require a driver.

The market for automatic passenger vehicles will also heat up as Germany’s Mercedes-Benz will launch its level-3 autonomy model later this year.

The market research company, Fuji Chimera Research Institute, expects that the technology level 3 will become more widely used in 2030 and nearly 43 million vehicles worldwide will have the technology before 2045.

The government in Japan has been eager to push autonomous driving forward. In April 2020, the Commission introduced a revised legislative framework to make the car responsible for driving rather than the driver.

Traffic Jam pilot technology is a global standard for the World Forum of Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations.

The new League marks Honda’s technological farsightedness, says Seiji Sugiura, senior analyst at the Tokai Tokyo Research Institute.

‘The difference between levels 2 and 3 is huge, which involves an accident issue: the system or the driver,’ he said. While he admits it’s too early to evaluate if other companies follow, Sugiura added, “Honda believes it is important to be the leader.

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Takaki Nakanishi, CEO of the Nakanishi Research Institute, said the car’s sensors cost millions of yen while it was significant to Honda to open up a new market for self-driving personal vehicles.

“The driver can provide drive assistance functions at a much cheaper price if he helps to supervise driving[as in level 2 technology],” Nakanishi said. “If we compare it to level two more than today, it may not be worth the costs of level three minus.”