Honda Motor Co. announced November 11 that it had received authorization from the Japanese government to sell Level 3 autonomous vehicles. The approval is the first of its kind in the world for that level of automation, which does not require the driver to monitor the environment.
Honda says it will launch a vehicle with the technology, the Honda Legend, in Japanese markets before March 31, 2021, when its fiscal year ends. The automated driving system is meant to enable the vehicle to drive autonomously in busy urban or highway settings: Fittingly, the system will be called “Traffic Jam Pilot.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are six widely-recognized levels of autonomy in vehicles from 0 to 5. Level 0 refers to cars without any automation at all. Vehicles with Level 5 autonomy would be theoretically capable performing “all driving functions under all conditions,” and may even lack steering wheels.
Level 3 cars are in between, and while they’re capable of fully taking over all driving functions, the vehicle still requires a driver available to take over for the car if the driving system deems a handover necessary.
The only autonomous cars currently on the road today are Level 1 or Level 2, which use advanced driver assistance systems or ADAS to help the driver steer, brake, accelerate, or park. Drivers of Level 1 and 2 autonomous vehicles are required to maintain focus on driving, since their cars lack the full automated driving system, or ADS, present in Level 3 vehicles.
The approval from the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism comes several months after the Ministry amended its Road Vehicle Act to spur development of autonomous vehicles by setting safety standards for Level 3 autonomous vehicles.
Those standards include that a recording device on board the vehicle must monitor the driver to ensure they are capable of taking a handover, adopt cybersecurity measures to prevent unauthorized access to the vehicle, and record when the driving system was turned on or off. Additionally, the Ministry requested that automakers put an “Automated drive” sticker on the back of any automated cars.