The demonstration run of the self-driving test car “Highway Teammate”

Teruo Ikehara’s Monocular Compound Eye: Three Japanese automakers race to develop automatic cars towards 2020

Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) announces the “Self-driving Car Vision.”

In line with the 2015 Tokyo Motor show which was held until November 8, it was reported that three Japanese automakers had an experiment on self-driving car in public roads. All of them aim to practically use it on the highway by 2020.

Along with the motor show, a symposium was held. According to Fumihiko Ike, the chairman of Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, the “Self-driving Car Vision” aims to be efficient and safest in the world, and to achieve a free mobility society. The automobile companies sometimes compete in the development of the self-driving car while also considering collaboration, and are individually poised to lead the world in this field.

The three companies that have announced their experiments were Toyota Motor Corporation, Nissan Motor Corporation, and Honda. During their experiments, writers were given the chance to ride the test vehicles. Aside from these three companies, President Yasuyuki Yoshinaga of Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru), leader in the automatic braking systems, have said at the auto show that automated driving will be implemented on highways by 2020.

The experiments performed by these three automakers were all conducted at Koto, Tokyo; Toyota and Honda performed theirs on the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway, while Nissan conducted theirs on general roads. Toyota used the Lexus GS Hybrid as its test car, while Honda used the remodeled Legend Hybrid. The routes were different, but both ran a one-way round trip course of 8km on the Shuto Expressway. The test ride was a mix of changing and merging into lanes, and acceleration and deceleration depending on the speed limit.

â—†The test vehicles of these three automakers have grown significantly for the past two years

Nissan’s test vehicle is the production Leaf electric car. They have set a counterclockwise circuit course of about 17km around Tokyo Big Sight. The purpose of it’s counterclockwise direction is that relying only in the car’s sensors when turning right on intersections, which is something difficult for most people, results to cases of being unable to see incoming cars. Tetsuya Iijima, general manager of Nissan’s ADAS&AD Development Department, stated, “It’s difficult when there’s no assistance from the vehicular communication systems.”

Also, compared to highways, it has a mixed traffic environment because in addition to cars and motorcycles, there are bicycles and pedestrians on the road. Hence, cars can be driven safety on such traffic environment. This course has two speed limits (50km/h and 60km/h) and about 15 traffic light stops at crossings and three-way intersections.

The three automaker companies also had a test drive experiment during the Tokyo Motor Show two years ago. All of them had significant growth in the span of two years. They didn’t have any significant difference in terms of quality, giving the impression that their battle in technological development remains in the same pace. The developers from these three automakers have unanimously said: “Since we don’t really know their achievements, we don’t really see our progress as something special.”

â—† The ability to merge into traffic becomes the indicator of technological evolution

Two years ago, the three automakers had variations in terms of their respective cognitive devices, which serve as the entry way to the three driving components (cognitive, judgement, and operation), but their latest test vehicles featured the same components. Although there are differences with the usage, the test vehicles of these three automakers feature three types of sensors: camera, millimeter-wave radar, and laser scanner (also called laser range finder).

Every day, there’s progress with these sensors—for instance, its ability and cost. In particular, the downsizing and performance improvement of the laser scanner that can recognize surrounding objects and traffic situations in 3D is very important. Toyota and Honda mounted six, while Nissan mounted four laser scanners on the rear and front bumpers, dramatically improving the cognitive performance. Toyota BR Advanced Intelligence Driving Support Development Office General Manager Ken Koibuchi said: “We were able to create a realistic configuration for 2020.”

These companies have all recognized that the challenges to make this practicable have been piling up. At the time, during the self-driving test of the three test drive cars, drivers had to intervene twice. Both cases occurred when the car was merged into the right lane during a traffic congestion. On a normal setup, drivers on the road would be communicating silently when merging into traffic; hence, this is a prime example of automated driving’s weak points.

Honda Technical Research Institute Senior Researcher Toshio Yokoyama pointed out what the key to its practicability as he said: “We want to find out just how much we can overcome the challenges on Shuto Expressway, which has the most severe traffic congestion, and the Hanshin Expressway, which has traffic congestion in junctions.” Hereafter, the ability to merge into traffic will be the focus and indicator of technological evolution.

(Translated by Charmaine Apple Silagan)