Honda president and CEO Takahiro Hachigo has set his engineers, designers and programmers the goal of delivering cars to customers within the next eight years that are capable of driving themselves in most road conditions.
Despite being seen as at the cutting edge of automotive technology, Honda has been comparatively quiet on the topic of autonomous driving, compared with fellow Japanese carmakers Toyota and Nissan.
However, at Honda's R&D headquarters, Hachigo confirmed that Honda and Acura cars with autonomous highway negotiating capabilities will be hitting the road in 2020 and will be followed five years later by cars that can take the strain out of inner-city driving, too.
"We will strive to achieve the technological establishment of Level 4 automated driving for personal car use by around 2025," he said.
According to the SAE's (the global engineering association) measurement criteria, for a car to offer level 4 autonomy it can drive itself in most dynamic situations even if a human does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene. As such it is one step away from a completely autonomous car (SAE level 5).
In order to reach level 4 by that deadline, Honda will be employing artificial intelligence -- a very hot topic at the moment thanks in part to the UN's first global summit dedicated to AI, which runs until Friday.
As Honda pointed out via a number of demonstrations at its R&D center for the assembled press, when a car has a deep learning system on board, it is capable of navigating roads without proper road markings and, for example, when it identifies a pedestrian or cyclist in the vicinity, can draw from past experience as to whether to stop, slow down or overtake.
Most impressive is that, in the demonstration at least, the car with the deep learning system was able to negotiate an urban driving environment with just front and rear camera sensors and without help from other systems such as LIDAR and GPS.
But that is for the future. When Honda's level 3 cars go on sale at decade's end, they will do so with radar, LIDAR and camera sensors in order to safely navigate multi-lane highway routes.
You can watch Honda's autonomous driving demonstrations at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSAg6bzlf1Q