The Japanese government has touted the move as a “world first,” saying that it would make Honda the first carmaker to mass produce and sell the next level of self-driving vehicles. Other driver assistance systems, such as Tesla’s (TSLA)
Autopilot and General Motors’ (GM)
Supercruise, are level 2 systems, meaning that they can control vehicle speed and steering, but still require the driver to pay attention at all times and be ready to intervene. Level 3 systems may only require driver attention in specific situations.
Honda said in a statement on Wednesday that it received approval from Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. The company plans to start selling Legends equipped with its system before the end of March 2021.
The car industry has adopted six levels of automated driving, which dictate how much assistance a vehicle can provide. Currently, there are no mass produced cars available at level 3, though some automakers have been testing vehicles
with more sophisticated level 4 technology, which entails a vehicle mostly capable of driving itself, though it may be restricted to a certain area. Level 5 automation, in which autonomous vehicle control could be guaranteed for virtually every situation and the need for a steering wheel is removed, is considered the ultimate goal for self-driving cars.
In the United States, “there is no vehicle currently available for sale that is ‘self-driving,'” according to the US Department of Transportation
. “Every vehicle currently for sale in the United States requires the full attention of the driver at all times for safe operation,” the agency states on its website.
Honda’s system, which is called the “Traffic Jam Pilot,” would only take over driving in certain scenarios,”such as when the vehicle is in congested traffic on [expressways],” the company stressed in a statement
But Japan hopes this is just the beginning, particularly as the country looks for an edge in the global self-driving car race.
“Automated driving cars are expected to play a big role in solving various social challenges that Japan faces, such as reducing traffic accidents, securing the elderly people’s transportation and improvement of the productivity in transportation sector,” the Japanese ministry said.
Japan hopes to lead the world in the field of autonomous driving, and will continue to promote the use of the technology, it added.