After getting into the self-driving game a little late compared to several other mainstream carmakers, Honda plans to introduce cars with highly-automated driving capabilities in most driving situations by 2025. We tried out their latest autonomous prototypes during a trip to Honda’s R&D centre in Tochigi, Japan recently.
In 8 years, Honda is aiming for SAE Level 4 (SAE levels go from zero to five). SAE Level 4 means “high automation,” meaning the car can handle all driving tasks in most driving situations, with possible exceptions including inclement weather conditions or unusual driving environments, where the driver will have to be alert and take control when needed.
Honda already offers the usual active-safety gadgets under the “Honda Sensing” banner (which is not even available in most of the models sold in the GCC), such as autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, but the prototypes we “drove” in Japan did a fair bit more.
We first tried a Honda Legend equipped with advanced sensor system which includes multiple cameras as well as five LiDAR and five radar sensors. It allowed the car to get on the highway, overtake and brake for traffic by itself, even allowing Skype video calls in slow traffic, but it cannot exit highways by itself yet, and it still requires the driver to keep looking straight ahead attentively to stay in autonomous mode.
We then took a ride in a Honda Accord simulating a common urban driving experience, and the route was pre-programmed. The prototype used artificial intelligence with deep learning capability, but it was equipped with camera sensors only, and no LIDAR or GPS, although these will be added later for better accuracy. Honda’s AI can sense and respond to complex driving environments and situations, such as roads without proper lane markings, as well as pedestrians and bicyclists at night with only partial visibility. Through the accumulation of experience, the system can improve its ability to predict an outcome and take appropriate action, so it will drive less like a newbie driver as time goes on.
These two cars seem to be early prototypes, as they seem to be limited in the types of situations they can handle, considering driving in Japan is a far more civilised affair than driving in the Middle East. While Honda will likely hit their 2025 target, it is unlikely we will see any of these cars appearing on our roads anytime soon.