This June, the Japanese cabinet passed a motion that created the "Declaration to become the World's Most Advanced IT Nation." The declaration states that, "by 2018, fatalities from traffic accidents will have been decreased to below 2,500, and by 2020, Japan will have achieved the world's safest road transit infrastructure, with additional large-scale reductions in traffic congestion." One step in this direction is " the creation of autonomous systems and the sharing of data from vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to road aimed at the development of an advanced driver assistance system. Demonstrations of autonomous driving will be launched on public roads in advance of deployment of this system; the aim is to, by the first half of the 2020s, bring to market a Level 3* semi-autonomous driving system." Will autonomous driving really become a reality in the near future in Japan?
This January, Audi demonstrated autonomous driving on a 900km route from California (Silicon Valley) to Nevada (Las Vegas), where the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) was being held. At the same venue, Mercedes-Benz unveiled a autonomous driving concept car with a facing-seat arrangement that smoothly unfolds to reveal a space like a living room. In June, BMW announced the sale of a new vehicle with an automated parking system. In addition, IT companies in the US such as Google and Apple are undertaking proof of concept trials to expand their business into the autonomous driving field. Developments overseas in autonomous driving have recently gained attention, but Japanese automobile manufacturers and suppliers are by no means falling behind.
For the 21st ITS World Congress in Detroit in September 2014 ,Toyota and Honda demonstrated on public roads an "advanced driver assistance system" that secured a fixed distance between the car driving ahead and had other features like lane control. In July 2014, Nissan announced its release schedule for autonomous driving. The company stated that it is aiming to release a fully autonomous driving vehicle by 2020. We are eagerly awaiting to see what companies in Japan, with its aim to become a technological superpower, will produce.
Even if autonomous driving is technologically possible, there are many hurdles to clear before it becomes a reality. For instance, in the event of an accident, is the vehicle or the "driver" responsible? Does insurance apply? If a car idled at a stoplight has a person in the driver's side intently staring at a smartphone screen or even reclining or sitting backwards, would you be able to confidently walk in front of that car? Achieving the dream of autonomous driving will require laws and social regulations, as well as trust from people, to make it possible.
However, autonomous driving cars may achieve a more safe and free form of transport, reducing traffic accidents and congestion, decreasing the environmental impact of driving, and helping the elderly and disabled travel to the hospital or market. SMC 2015 will play host to an autonomous driving demonstration and an international symposium on the subject.
In addition to Japanese automobile manufacturers, a range of experts on social systems and city planning from within and without Japan have been invited. The event will be a chance to debate the future of autonomous driving.
* Level 3 set by the Japan's Ministry of Land. Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.