Honda has started selling the first commercial passenger vehicle with level 3 autonomy - the ability to drive in many situations without human intervention, but with the expectation a human is always ready to take control.
While the announcement of the new Legend sedan equipped with "SENSING Elite" technology does indeed appear to be a world's first, Honda's announcement also reveals a few catches.
For starters, the car is only certified for autonomous ops in Japan.
Second, while the list price is 11 million yen (US$102,000), you can’t actually buy it as it’s available for lease only.
Third, there are only 100 of them available.
How does this thing work?
Honda says the SENSING Elite system uses a combination of three-dimensional high-definition maps, satnav and and external sensors to create a 360-degree model of the Legend's surrounds.
All that info lets the car perform "proper recognitions, predictions and decisions and applies a high-level control of acceleration, braking and steering to assist the driver to achieve high-quality and smooth driving."
While that's going on, Honda suggests human drivers could "watch television/DVD on the navigation screen or operate the navigation system to search for a destination address, which helps mitigate driver fatigue and stress while driving in a traffic jam."
The car has three main tricks, which Honda describes as:
- Adaptive in Lane Driving:
The system assists the driving and in following a car in front within a lane. The system drives the vehicle along the middle of the lane while maintaining the pre-set vehicle speed. When there is a car in front, the system assists in following while maintaining a proper following distance.
- Active Lane Change Assist with Hands-off Function:
While driving using the Adaptive in Lane Driving, when the driver confirms safe surroundings and puts on the turn signal, the system assists acceleration/deceleration and steering for the lane change.
- Active Lane Change with Hands-off Function:
While driving using the Adaptive in Lane Driving, when the driver switches on the Active Lane Change with Hands-off Function, the system assesses the situation and assists the lane change and/or passing of the other vehicle under certain conditions. When the system detects a car in front being driven at low speed, the system notifies the driver and then assists the passing and returning to the original lane.
This all happens under the watchful eye of inwards-facing cameras that check the driver is ready to take over.
If the car decides that's necessary, it will alert the driver to do so. Non-compliance will see the car slow down and pull over to the shoulder of a road.
If the human is still refusing to take over the car "further urges the driver to respond to the handover request using visual, auditory and tactile alerts including escalated alarm sounds and vibration on the driver’s seatbelt." If the driver does not respond to that the car will automatically decelerate until it reaches a stop, all while blasting the horn and hazard lights.
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Honda tested the car with around ten million possible real-world on-road scenarios, and approximately 1.3 million kilometers of test driving.
Honda believes autonomous vehicles will make roads more safe. The USA’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shares that vision, stating:
Automated vehicles’ potential to save lives and reduce injuries is rooted in one critical and tragic fact: 94% of serious crashes are due to human error. Automated vehicles have the potential to remove human error from the crash equation, which will help protect drivers and passengers, as well as bicyclists and pedestrians.
However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety approximates there is only one death for every 100 million miles driven.
OK... What colors are available?
The vehicle comes in Majestic Black Pearl, Platinum White Pearl, Super Platinum Metallic, Premium Deep Rosso Pearl, Modern Steel Metallic and Obsidian Blue Pearl. However, anything other than Modern Steel Metalllic and Obsidian Blue Pearl is going to cost you an extra 55,000 yen.®