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Honda is offering cars with Level 3 self-driving capability in Japan

Just 100 Legend Hybrid EX sedans will be fitted with the automaker's new Honda Sensing Elite suite of driver aids.

These specially equipped sedans will be able to completely drive themselves in certain situations.

Honda

Despite what some prognosticators and auto manufacturers say, self-driving cars aren't a thing. But they are getting closer to reality every year. Pushing forward to this autonomous future, on Thursday, Honda announced that in Japan it will offer a limited run of Legend sedans fitted with Level 3 automated-driving technology.

These special luxury cars will feature something called Honda Sensing Elite, which is a step above the automaker's already-excellent Honda Sensing suite of driver aids. The new system will offer hands-free driving capability, similar to what GM's excellent Super Cruise provides. In certain situations, it will be able to accelerate, steer and stop the vehicle without driver intervention, and it can even change lanes on its own.

But the headlining feature here is something called Traffic Jam Pilot, which is what qualifies as a Level 3, where the vehicle handles all aspects of driving without human interaction. In certain situations, such as in stop-and-go congestion while on an expressway, Traffic Jam Pilot can accelerate, steer and stop the vehicle entirely on its own, to the point where the driver does not have to monitor the system at all. In fact, they can watch awesome Roadshow videos on YouTube or read a book while the vehicle does all the work. In comparison, with Super Cruise, the driver has to remain situationally aware, monitoring the vehicle at all times, and be ready to take over if the system demands; there's no way to play Call of Duty: Mobile while commuting home from work like you could in this Honda. Of course, if things do change, Traffic Jam Pilot will also request driver intervention, just like Super Cruise, but the big differentiator is the fact that the driver does not have to constantly monitor the vehicle.

As with GM's Super Cruise, a driver monitor is part of Honda Sensing Elite.

Honda

For added safety, Honda Sensing Elite also includes a feature called Emergency Stop Assist. If the driver needs to take over and doesn't respond, the system will, if necessary, automatically move over to the outermost lane or the shoulder and then stop. It also sounds the horn and activates the hazard lights to warn other motorists. To get the driver's attention, these Legend sedans use escalating visual, audible and haptic alerts, even buzzing the seat belt to get your attention.

A few key technologies enable Honda Sensing Elite. Aside from an array of sensors and software, it also relies on high-definition 3D map data and global navigation satellites to help detect the vehicle's surroundings. Inside, there's a driver-monitoring camera and indicator lights mounted to the steering wheel, just like with Super Cruise. They illuminate in blue when Traffic Jam Pilot is active and flash orange when the driver has to take over again. These special Legend sedans also feature a 12.3-inch LCD screen, which is designed to help the driver understand what the system is doing.

Just 100 of these Legend sedans will be available for lease.

Honda

Naturally, safety was a top priority while developing Honda Sensing Elite. The automaker simulated some 10 million possible roadway situations and conducted more than 800,000 miles of testing.

Honda Sensing Elite and its Level 3 autonomous diving capability will be offered on the Legend Hybrid EX sedan in Japan starting on March 5. Just 100 examples will be made available, and you won't be able to buy one; the automaker is only leasing them. With room for five, these cars feature a 3.5-liter V6 engine, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. But what does it cost to park one of these super-advanced machines in your garage? Well, including a 10% consumption tax, Honda's asking price is 11 million yen, roughly $102,000.

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