Pardon me while I fanboi here for just a second. You see Honda, Big Red, Acura by another name, the maker of both the NSX and the Integra is officially the first to obtain a Level 3 certification for automated vehicles.
Honda has announced the sale of its flagship sedan, the Legend, which will come with Honda SENSING Elite, a system boasting Level 3 autonomy. Honda went and did it, just like it said it would and it even stuck to the timeline that Reuters had reported, with lease sales of the Legend beginning on March 5th. Before I go any further, no, Honda has no plans on bringing this to America. This is a Japan-only proposition.
Watch the video below for a preview of the tech: (I don’t read Japanese either, but true love transcends language.)
First off, I will bring attention to who exactly is certifying this because it’s not coming from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is the agency we are usually referring to when discussing Level 2/3/4 AV certification. In the case of the Honda Legend, it is the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism that certified.
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And I think it’s worth a quick explainer here of what Level 3 tech is and who better to explain that than our very own Jason Torchinsky, who did a handy chart on this stuff:
Level 2 is where we’re at now with driver-assisted Teslas and Cadillacs. Level 4 is the Johnny Cab level, where the car drives itself and you don’t need to engage with it whatsoever. Level 3 autonomy is more or less when the car is in control of major functions leaving the human driver free to take their attention off the task of driving, however, the car can ask for help from its human driver and it’s advanced enough to do so. Level 4 is where things make sense. Level 2 we know is unsafe with its car-to-human emergency hand offs, and Level 3 is still treading in that same kind of water.
The Honda SENSING Elite system boasts the Level 3 certification due to its “Traffic Jam Pilot” function, which can take control of the car in the specific situations Torchinsky alludes to. In the case of the Legend these are in “congested traffic and on an expressway,” in Honda’s own words.
But when the car needs to hand off to the driver it has the ability to differentiate between a responsive and unresponsive driver via its suite of sensors inside the car. In the event that the car must handover control and the driver is unresponsive, the Legend will wind down operation by bringing the car safely to a halt.
Honda elaborates the handover and/or how the car ceases operation in detail in the following:
When the driver continues to be unresponsive to the system’s requests for a handover (the transfer of control back to the driver), the system assists deceleration and stopping of the vehicle by making lane change(s) to the outermost lane or the shoulder of the road. To be more specific, in case the driver does not respond to the system’s handover requests as the Traffic Jam Pilot/Hands-off Function will be disengaged, the system 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 continues to be unresponsive, the system will assist deceleration and stopping of the vehicle while alerting other vehicles around using hazard lights and the horn. When there is a road shoulder, the system assists deceleration and lane changes until the vehicle reaches the shoulder of the road for a safe stop
In case you’re skeptical or fearful that this is unproven tech, you’re probably not alone! Honda itself must be anticipating any and all skepticism about driver-assistance tech (with good reason) and is heading it off with extensive testing. Honda’s announcement details the distances driven and the simulations it ran before deploying the new tech:
Placing the highest priority on safety and reliability, the system development employed simulations where a total of approximately 10 million pattens of possible real-world situations were simulated, and a number of demonstration tests were conducted while driving test vehicles on expressways for a total of approximately 1.3 million kilometers (800,000 miles). Moreover, the system incorporates redundant system design paying due consideration to safety and reliability in case some kind of problem occurs to any of the devices.
That’s quite a bit of testing, which probably corresponds to how much skepticism Honda expects from us.
The only bad news in all this is that the sales are limited to 100 units. And these Level 3 AV Legends will cost quite a bit, starting at ¥11,000,000 JPY or almost $102,000 USD, but that does include the 10 percent consumption tax in Japan. Anybody got a cool 100k I can borrow, right quick? Oh, and maybe a place in Japan, too?