DETROIT – Japan’s government and auto-industry stakeholders outline a new roadmap for future safety technologies.
The plan, to be implemented by the nation’s Cabinet Office, will involve joint research by the ministries of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism; internal affairs and communications; economy, trade and industry; and the National Police Agency.
First-year spending has been set at ¥50 billion ($466 million). The portion set aside for research into automated driving is ¥2.45 billion ($23 million).
Interviewed at the recent ITS World Congress in Detroit, Tagui Ichikawa, counselor for the Cabinet Office, won’t confirm how many years the program will run, but indicates it likely will continue through summer 2020 when the Tokyo Olympics are held.
Technical areas to be addressed in addition to automated driving are innovative combustion technology; new-generation power electronics; advanced structural materials; energy carriers focusing on hydrogen; next-generation ocean resources development; infrastructure management; disaster mitigation; agriculture, forestry and fisheries research; and innovative design.
Hiroyuki Watanabe, chairman of ITS Japan and technical advisor to Toyota, will lead the automated-driving project.
The Japanese government unveiled its ITS strategy in June 2013. Japanese automakers rolled out their individual plans in October at the ITS World Congress in Tokyo, and the first public road tests followed in November.
The cross-ministerial group, formally named the Cross-Ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program, will hold a public workshop Nov. 17-18 at United Nations University in Tokyo.
Experts from the Americas, Europe, and Asia and the Pacific will take part in the program, which will focus on connected and automated driving systems. Subjects will include integrated approaches to reducing traffic fatalities and injuries and next-generation transportation systems employing automated-driving technologies.
Japan has been an early leader in the ITS field.
As of June, 63 million vehicles equipped with navigation systems were in operation in the country along with 43 million equipped with VICS (vehicle and communication system) technology and 47 million with electronic toll-collection units.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism reports electronic toll-collection usage rates on toll roads is 89%.
On the infrastructure side, an estimated 360,000 monitoring devices have been installed on the nation’s highways that have helped reduce accidents by informing drivers in advance of traffic congestion on upcoming curves, for instance.
On one particularly dangerous curve in Tokyo, the number of accidents was lowered a reported 60%.
Watanabe says Japan wants to achieve the world’s safest traffic operations by 2020 and, by 2030, the world’s safest and smoothest traffic operations.
According to World Health Organization statistics, Japan reported 5.2 traffic deaths per 100,000 people in 2010. Watanabe hopes to reduce that to below 2.6 by 2018, a difficult challenge according to current trends.
Globally, he is concerned that traffic fatalities will grow to 2.4 million in 2020, up from 1.2 million in 2004, according to a WHO forecast.
He expects to reach Level 3 (automated) driving early in the next decade and Level 4 (autonomous) driving by 2030.
The nearly 20 Japanese exhibitors at the 4-day congress in Detroit included Aisin Seiki, Denso, Panasonic, Sumitomo Electric Industries, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the Universal Traffic Management Systems Society, a new group developing integrated traffic control, advanced mobile information, dynamic route guidance and public-transportation priority systems.
Aisin Seiki displayed its next-generation driver-monitor system featuring drowsiness-detection software that observes eyelid movement and closure and triggers an audio warning to the driver if he appears to be asleep at the wheel. The new system authenticates the driver’s face upon entry into the vehicle, then links the system to his or her smartphone.
Development has been completed, and Aisin expects it to be installed in a production model in the next two years. The current technology is available on two Lexus models.
Denso, Japan’s largest automotive component supplier, exhibited its latest vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-pedestrian and vehicle-to-infrastructure systems employing a 5.9 GHz dedicated short-range communications module.
Denso also presented details of its future domain-control-unit architecture for electrical and electronic devices. The technology will integrate security, driving and safety, car communication, parking, fuel economy, interior and information features. It’s targeted for introduction in 2020.
A high point of the show was Honda’s “highly automated” Acura RLX, which took to Detroit’s freeways at a constant 55 mph (88 km/h).
Equipped with both mid- and long-range radar, GPS, gyro and lidar sensors, laser scanners and stereoscopic front and rear cameras, the car effectively monitors everything around it, 360 degrees, in real time. Monitors inside the vehicle show roadways including other cars in the traffic pattern.
The trip began with the driver manually maneuvering the surface streets to get to the expressway. A Honda test engineer explained high automation is simpler in highway driving than on surface streets.
The ride lasted 13 minutes including 10 on the freeway, where, with only one exception, the driver kept his hands off the steering wheel and feet off the accelerator and brake pedals.
Following a built-in route planner, the car moved freely between lanes and automatically steered to an off-ramp where the driver again took manual control of the car and returned to the starting point.
The engineer noted Honda cars now on the market are equipped with features such as active cruise control, park assist and lane-departure warning. The automaker was an industry leader in introducing collision-mitigating brakes and front-collision-warning technology.
Honda is testing two cars in Michigan, one of four states having passed legislation permitting autonomous cars for testing purposes. The others are California, Florida and Nevada.