Autonomous vehicles—sometimes better called driverless cars—have been an eagerly-anticipated development in some corridors for some time now. Sure, some also believe these will ultimately bring the death of an entire field of human endeavor with them, but others see quite a few advantages. A new report from The Verge spelled out some of Honda (News - Alert)'s plans going forward.
Honda has been playing its cards close to the vest on driverless car development, ranking just 15 out of 18 possible in terms of overall development. The new reports put Honda a lot farther along the path than that ranking would suggest, as Honda plans to have Level 4 autonomous-capable vehicles in play and available for purchase by 2025. Level 4 automation is the point where the car can handle nearly any conditions itself, and by way of comparison, Level 3 automation requires the driver to be available to take over some functions (those should be ready in 2020, the reports note), and Level 5 is full automation, a development that's still only theoretical.
Early word says that testing is proceeding apace, and delivering some very exciting new ways to handle a commute. With a prototype Honda Legend—otherwise known as an Acura RLX—able to handle closed-track freeway-equivalent driving at 62 miles per hour, it's a safe bet that these cars will be able to operate well at much lower speeds, making city driving a possibility as well.
There's good and bad about this development, as is so often the case. Sure, everyone likes autonomous vehicles for the value of removing the boredom from a commute, or for simplifying often complex city driving by taking the human element out of it. Insurance companies are perhaps less excited thanks to the inevitable hit that premiums will have to take—why am I paying for any but the cheapest insurance on a car that works to avoid accidents, says most every insurance buyer—and taxi services are no doubt cringing at the thought of losing drunk-driver business. After all, who cares how drunk a driver is when the car's doing the driving? Expand this to semi trucks and delivery vans, however, and you've got the makings of an economic firestorm. Who would hire a human, who is required by law to sleep, when an autonomous vehicle can drive all night and day?
It's the implications that make autonomous cars such an exciting field. There are economic disasters waiting to result from technology like this, just as there are great potential opportunities afoot. Which scenarios actually emerge, though, won't be known until Honda's Level 4s start hitting the field in any great number.