Honda is making a major commitment towards the manufacturing of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles. The company’s goal is to introduce vehicles in 2020 that are capable of autonomous driving on the freeway and then over the following five years improve the technology to allow fully autonomous by 2025. This goal is enthusiastic, yet the Japanese car manufacturers have shown their abilities in the past to make technological improvements on a grand scale, such as the successful introduction of the Hybrid Prius by Toyota. The Japanese government supports the Japanese car manufacturers significantly and this helps them make such advancements.
Autonomous vehicles are very desirable if the technology is perfected because they could be better at preventing accidents when compared to human operators. For example, accidents caused by a human driver falling asleep at the wheel would be eliminated; impaired driving would never be an issue, either.
Engadget, who reported the Honda announcement, also noted in a separate article that there is a project under development in the state of Ohio. This project will create a 35-mile long portion of the highway Route 35 that is enabled with technology to support autonomous vehicles.
This technology would allow the autonomous vehicles on the highway in the test area to communicate with the other autonomous vehicles using that section of the road and also get information from the highway sensors and highway system monitoring equipment as well. The goals of this road test project in Ohio is to allow smart-technology enabled cars to use traffic lanes more efficiently and drive safely in closer proximity to other similar vehicles.
The effectiveness of autonomous vehicles on the highway will lead to improvements that can then be used to tackle the more difficult challenges that come up when a vehicle is on smaller roads and driving through city traffic. The autonomous technology relies on a combination of LiDar, multiple cameras mounted on the vehicles, and radar sensors.
LiDar is a laser light based measurement system that sends a beam of laser light to sweep an object and then uses sensors to measure the reflected light. This technology can determine shapes of objects to make a 3D representation of the object, recognize the difference between moving objects when compared to stationary ones, and calculate the distance from the vehicle to the objects. Cameras are used to provide data to computer programs that use image recognition software to identify objects. Radar is another technology for determining the distance from the vehicle to an object. The combination of redundant systems improves the safe operations of autonomous vehicles.
Much work still needs to be done to make autonomous vehicles safe for use. There have been accidents with semi-autonomous vehicles where the technology failed to recognize objects as dangerously close. In one such accident, a Tesla vehicle drove into a truck that was crossing a highway because the technology was not able to differentiate between the light-colored truck and the light-colored sky in the background.
This accident caused the death of the passenger/driver in the Tesla vehicle that was running in autopilot mode. In autopilot mode, the driver still has the responsibility for controlling the vehicle and has full control capabilities. The driver had time to take control of the vehicle to avoid the accident, but failed to do so. This accident, while unfortunate, did not stop continued progress in improving autonomous vehicles.
Wired reported that the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the Tesla crash and found no reason not to continue to support the advancement of the technology because even if the technology is not perfect, it is far better than human operators. Human errors are the cause of over 90% of vehicle accidents. Because of this, advancement towards autonomous vehicle operation is to be encouraged. Honda’s efforts are very encouraging.