— On the heels of self-driving car announcements from Audi to Cadillac, Honda threw down its own autonomous gauntlet. The Japanese automaker said it plans to have cars that can drive themselves in most situations by about 2025. Honda said it's targeting Level 4 cars — a reference to SAE International's widely adopted six-level classification (Level Zero through Level 5) of self-driving capability — by 2025. That's atop a plan to have cars with Level 3 capabilities on the highway by 2020, Honda says.
Level 4 won't just be a laboratory prototype. The automaker wants to "achieve the technological establishment of Level 4 automated driving for personal car use by around 2025," CEO Takahiro Hachigo said in a statement.
In practical terms, that means that by 2020, one or more cars from Honda or its Acura luxury division will be able to drive and monitor its surroundings on the highway, though it will still require drivers to take over on occasion. And five or so years after that, a Honda or Acura model should have all of that plus certain fallback capabilities so it can drive in most situations — though you may still have to intervene in extenuating circumstances (Honda cited bad weather as an example). It still won't be able to drive in all conditions, a capability reserved for Level 5 cars.
In a video Honda posted of a testing demonstration in Japan, a sedan packs a bevy of sensors — including cameras, radar and light detection and ranging (lidar) units — tucked inconspicuously into the sheet metal. It's a far cry from most of today's self-driving prototypes, whose roof-mounted sensors are hard to miss.
Honda touts an artificial intelligence system with "deep learning capability" to remember past outcomes and predict future ones in more complex environments, such as urban intersections, without lidar or GPS. Honda said that with cameras alone, its system can "sense and respond to complex driving environments and situations, such as roads without proper lane markings." It can even detect bicyclists and pedestrians at night, predict their movements from past experience and take appropriate action, Honda said.
No vehicle on sale in the U.S. right now has Level 3 capabilities — Audi claims its next-generation A8 will be the first — but Level 2 cars are increasingly available today.