Articles for ITS market Expectation vs. reality:Autonomous Driving in Japan

 Is the trend of autonomous driving over?

It is said that there is not much news about autonomous driving nowadays, and some people wonder if the self-driving enthusiasm is over.
In 2017, the experiment of “Google car” became a popular topic. However, in 2018 there were several fatal accidents related to autonomous driving. Due to these accidents, the safety had been questioned worldwide and major countries have changed their policy on autonomous driving.

On the other hand, in Japan, experiments for autonomous driving are actively being conducted, because the government has eased its regulation. An expert explains that Japan is the most comfortable environment for autonomous driving experiments worldwide.
It can be said there has been no big news recently as the first experimental stage is over and discussions are being held for practical use. However, Japanese autonomous driving is now at its turning point. We can see problems by comparing its situation in China.

  The concept of autonomous driving in China

On September 15, Chinese IT giant Baidu explained the progress of the automatic operation plan "Apollo" at the annual meeting. They introduced the self-driving taxi of China FAW and the remote control capabilities in China. As a technical foundation, they utilize a high-precision 3D map and Chinese GNSS BeiDou for location information. Communication methods include 5G and the cloud, like V2I, V2V, and V2P with laser radar (ex: LiDar) and cameras for image recognition are also used. Looking at these capabilities, it seems that there is not a big difference from Japanese technology.

The difference is the role of autonomous driving in society.
Baidu aims to commercialize Level 3 and above autonomous driving by around 2025 in major cities. It is believed that this system would increase the efficiency of social mobility, facilitate economic activity, and maintain stable economic growth.
It is not just a business plan by one company, but a comprehensive city plan by the government.
In general terms, it can be said that China, where the government has power, is suitable for the practical application of autonomous driving. In order to improve the movement efficiency, national-scale traffic management will be required. Specifically, it needs to establish a dedicated road for autonomous driving or to install a speed limiter on Level-2 or lower vehicles for maintain a speed difference between different level vehicles.

 Japanese dilemma

However, in Japan, it is difficult to impose restrictions on the public for autonomous driving. Automakers explain that it is essential to comply with the legal speed at level 3, but there is almost no discussion about installing a speed limiter on lower capability vehicles.

This is the same in other major countries such as Germany.
Daimler announced that they would implement Level 3 driving at 60km/h or less on the highway in the second half of 2021. The new Subaru "Levorg" is equipped with the next-generation EyeSight, which enables hands-off driving at 55km/h or less on the highway. In addition, last summer Honda had initially stated that they would put Level 3 to practical use, but in April 2020, it was announced they would revise the schedule.

The most important thing for practical use of autonomous driving is the social demand. Even if technology evolves, it will not be accepted unless people think they really need it.
To what extent will Japan pursue the "ideal" of autonomous driving? I would like to keep an eye on the future movement of the Japanese government.

Writer introduction

桃田 健史氏

Mr. Kenji Momota   Automotive journalist

His major is the world automotive industry and he is also familiar with the energy industry, IT and the aging society problem as the related fields. He acts around the world based in Japan and USA and writes for the general magazines, the technology journals and the automotive related media etc.
He is also commentator of motor race and world's motor show on TV program based on his career of the driver of Indy Racing League and NASCAR. In recent years, he has been covering about a paradigm shift from developed countries to developing countries, the motorized vehicle like EV and the telematics.



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