GOING SOLO: Honda has demonstrated an autonomous car on a freeway route around Detroit, Michigan - 13km without the 'driver' touching the wheel. Image: Honda
DETROIT, Michigan - Honda Cars has shared its vision of the hands-free highway commute, a car that can safely drive itself on a freeway while the driver's hands are off the wheel.
The car is a prototype but Honda says the technology could start appearing on its product from 2020.
The prototype — an Acura RLX sedan — has cameras that monitor lane lines and multiple radar sensors on the front and sides. On top is a beacon that uses laser beams to continually scan the car's surroundings, similar to self-driving prototypes already introduced by Google, Ford and Toyota.
GPS also helps the car stay on a previously mapped course and obey speed limits.
On a loop around Detroit the car's driver took his hands off the wheel as the car entered the freeway. It accelerated to the speed limit and applied the brakes if it got too close to a car ahead.
It signalled to change lanes, waited for an opening, then merged easily on to two other freeways and edged to the left to avoid a construction zone. To exit, the car reduced its speed to 55km/ on the ramp.
The driver's hands remained off the wheel for the entire 13km loop tut Honda says the car will automatically return control to the driver if it senses it can't handle a situation. Example: if a car cuts in front too closely and fast braking is needed.
Hironobu Kiryu, the car's chief engineer, said Honda had been working on the prototype in Japan for about a year but was the result of decades of safety research. "Honda is aiming to eliminate accidents," he said. "Not just for the driver but for pedestrians and drivers of other cars."
The company was showing the car in Detroit this week (Sept 7-11 2014) as part of an Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, an annual gathering of engineers and other researchers.