Japanese automaker Honda Motor said on Wednesday it will be the world’s first automaker to engage in mass production of sensor-packed level 3 autonomous cars that will permit drivers to let their vehicles navigate congested expressway traffic.
The automaker said that it is planning to launch sales of a Honda Legend (luxury sedan) geared up with the newly approved automated driving equipment before the end of March 2021.
The race to build self-driving cars is a key technology battleground for automakers, with technology firms including Google parent Alphabet Inc also investing billions of dollars in a field expected to increase car sales.
Japan’s government previously in the day awarded a safety certification to Honda’s autonomous “Traffic Jam Pilot” driving technology, which legally permitted drivers to take their eyes off the road.
“Self-driving cars are expected to play a big role in helping decrease traffic accidents, provide transportation for the elderly and improve logistics,” said Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism.
There are six levels of vehicle autonomy, from 0 to 5, ranging from manual vehicles or those with simple features such as cruise control to fully self-driving vehicles that would not require steering wheels, or brake and acceleration pedals.
Level 2 cars, which are presently on public roads, can control their own speed and steering but must have an alert driver able to take control at all times.
In July, U.S. electric automaker Tesla Inc said it was “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving.