Subaru to commercialize automated driving on ordinary roads

REUTERS/Kevin Buckland
Subaru President Tomomi Nakamura speaks while chief technology officer Tetsuo Onuki looks on during a news conference at its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2020.

Self-driving car technology works better in the controlled environment of a limited-access expressway than in the more unpredictable environment of an ordinary open street. But in the late 2020s, Subaru Corp. aims to sell cars that can use an advanced type of so-called Level 2 technology on ordinary roads, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

There are not yet any cars with such abilities on the market in Japan.

Domestic and foreign carmakers, as well as tech giants, are racing to develop this technology, which is likely to accelerate competition over autonomous driving.

With Level 2 technology, artificial intelligence can make steering and braking decisions to such an extent that a car can do some of its own driving. Self-driving cars capable of Level 2 or higher driving on highways with a clearly defined road environment are already on sale in Japan.

But hurdles to the realization of Level 2 have been high on ordinary roads, as pedestrians may cross the road anywhere, and some roadways lack a clear boundary with the sidewalk. Only technologies equivalent to Level 1, such as automatic brakes that use sensors to avoid collisions with cars and pedestrians, have been put to practical use on ordinary roads.

Subaru’s Level 2 system will utilize EyeSight, a driving support system developed by the carmaker. The system uses onboard cameras to identify signs, traffic signals and pedestrian movements. Even when the boundary between the roadway and sidewalk is obscured by snow, or when white lines on the pavement are not visible, the AI analyzes the surrounding information and selects a safer route.

The Level 2 system will also automatically accelerate, decelerate and steer the car. If the AI determines that the car cannot stop, it will automatically turn in a safer direction.

Subaru aims to lower costs by using cameras and reducing the number of expensive sensors and radars, and to spread the use of Level 2 self-driving cars. In the future, the company aims to achieve even more advanced Level 2 hands-off-the-wheel driving on ordinary roads.

On expressways, Honda Motor Co.’s luxury sedan Legend is equipped with the world’s first Level 3 function, which enables the human driver to remain in compliance with the Road Traffic Law even while watching TV without looking ahead — but only when traffic is congested. Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. also sell Level 2 passenger cars that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel on highways.

Level 2 on ordinary roads is still in the development stage at Toyota, Nissan and other companies. Autonomous driving is being developed not only by foreign automakers but also by tech giants such as Google, and competition is intensifying worldwide.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An illustration : Japanese automakers’ progress in autonomous driving / Based on Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry data