Honda Plots Course for Increased Autonomy in New Vehicles

The automaker has set goals of releasing a vehicle capable of autonomous freeway driving by 2020, and another that is close to fully autonomous by 2025.

by Dan Gearino, The Columbus Dispatch / June 9, 2017
To prove the effectiveness of the car’s pedestrian awareness capabilities, a Honda volunteer steps out into the crosswalk in front of the approaching automated vehicle. After slowing to a stop, the camera-equipped vehicle proceeded to a nearby stop sign, where it waited for another pedestrian to cross before carrying on. Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology

(TNS) — Honda has laid out plans for self-driving cars, aiming to sell a model that is close to fully autonomous by 2025.

The automaker also set a goal of of releasing a vehicle capable of autonomous freeway driving by 2020.

"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," said Takahiro Hachigo, Honda's president and CEO.

His comments, provided by Honda, were made at a wide-ranging news conference Wednesday in Tokyo.

The auto industry is moving toward autonomous vehicles at a pace that means major changes are coming soon. The government, insurance companies and drivers will need to keep up.

Honda's announcement has implications for central Ohio, which is a hub for Honda manufacturing and research and development. The company is a key player in Smart Columbus, a partnership between government and businesses to use parts of the the city as a proving ground for high-tech transportation systems.

Hachigo described the plans in terms of a six-step scale of automation, ranging from Level 0, which is no automation, to Level 5, which is full automation. (The widely used scale was set by SAE International, an organization of auto engineers.)

Several automakers, including Tesla, say they have current models that have reached Level 2.

By 2020, Honda intends to reach Level 3, which means the vehicle can handle many driving functions, but a driver still must be at the wheel and ready to take over if needed. The practical application is that a driver could let the car do all the work on the freeway.

Then, by 2025, Honda wants to reach Level 4, which is just short of full automation and capable of handling nearly any situation.

Honda joins many of its fellow automakers in setting these types of goals.

Ford has been one of the most ambitious, saying it wants to achieve Level 4 by 2021.

Honda's timetable puts the company "in the middle of the pack," said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst for Edmunds.com.

She says Honda is describing its goals in a clear way, which will make it easy to assess whether the benchmarks are met. Other automakers have been less clear about their expectations.

Some Honda vehicles already have technologies that are steps toward automation.

The 2015 CR-V, assembled in East Liberty, was the first to use Honda Sensing, a group of features including automatic braking to avoid crashes and "lane-keeping assist" to stop the vehicle from veering into another lane. Other Honda and Acura models now have the same features available.

"Honda is constantly refining and advancing our automated driving technology," said Frank Paluch, president of Honda R&D Americas, in an e-mailed statement.

"We already have more than 500,000 vehicles on the road — many developed and built right here in Ohio — equipped with our Honda Sensing and AcuraWatch advanced safety and driver-assistive technologies, which serve as both a technological and perceptual bridge to achieving the automated driving technology application targets we announced ... ."

He added that the company's goal is to "create something truly new that advances mobility and makes people's lives better."

©2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.