We now have the world's first official semi-autonomous car...and it’s probably not the one you would have anticipated. Japanese authorities have cleared Honda to produce Level 3 self-driving-capable versions of the aging Honda Legend sedan — a.k.a. the RLX that Acura killed off in America.
Honda will offer a limited run of 100 semi-autonomous-tech-equipped Legends in its homeland, with each costing the equivalent of $102,000. The company did not announce plans to extend the Level 3 technology to other vehicles, or countries.
Level 2 systems like GM’s Super Cruise and Tesla’s Autopilot require driver attention at all times. Level 3 systems, on the other hand, allow the car to operate autonomously in certain situations and let the driver think about other things — just so long as said driver ready to take over at any moment.
Admittedly, Honda’s system — called Honda Sensing Elite — is something of a baby step. Its sole Level 3 function is called Traffic Jam Pilot, which allows the car to operate itself during low-speed traffic jams on the highway. The driver cedes control to the vehicle, enabling them to, say, watch a movie on the infotainment screen. But the driver must be ready to intervene if called upon.
While this is an important milestone, it’s one that many manufacturers have passed on. Audi announced a similar system for the A8 back in 2017, but backed off on implementing it. Most companies are skipping Level 3 autonomy to work on Level 4, where cars can operate with full autonomy within a bounded area.
After all, revolutionizing the transport of people and goods is a bit more lucrative than offering a fancy feature on a luxury car. <anufacturers don’t view the incremental gains as worth the substantial regulatory hurdles required to implement them. And they also don’t view Level 3 — relax, but be ready to step in at any moment! — as fair to the driver.