Self-driving Hondas: Coming to a city near you in 2025 (ideally)

It'll have a less capable system for highway driving in 2020.

Honda

In the past, Honda has been pretty cagey with respects to talking about self-driving cars and other future plans. But now, it's finally opening up.

Honda wants to get autonomous cars on city streets by 2025. These cars will be capable of SAE Level 4 self-driving, which means a human may only be required to respond in certain driving modes. Otherwise, the vehicle will take care of both driving and monitoring the environment.

Honda's hardware strategy isn't much different than the competition, relying on a mix of cameras, radar and lidar.

Honda

Honda won't be sitting on its hands before then. In 2020, it plans to introduce a semi-autonomous system that will be capable of driving itself on highways. We were in Japan this week with Honda, where the automaker gave us an early demo of the system, and we walked away impressed, even though conditions were perfectly ideal for the demo.

Between now and then, Honda will attempt to keep development costs in line by increasing coordination between its R&D and manufacturing departments, as the company moves forward with both advanced safety systems and electrification.

It's unclear just what vehicles will end up electrified, but it hopes to have electrified models (including hybrids, battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell cars) comprise two-thirds of its lineup by 2030. Currently, that number sits at about 5 percent.

Honda's goal to put a Level 4 car on the road by 2025 is about five years past the estimate of other automakers, but being first to market in this burgeoning segment is not necessarily the wisest idea. Look at Tesla -- all eyes are on it, and any slip up (whether it's a normal fender-bender or something involving Autopilot) is immediately scrutinized across the internet. Tesla might be able to weather that storm, but traditional automakers will have a harder time.

Look at Apollo 13 for an example -- things went wrong, and it soured public opinion on space, relegating human civilization to orbiting the same blue ball for decades to come. Only now are we beginning to approach the idea of putting men on Mars in earnest. A similar setback could easily befall self-driving cars, and odds are it'll be one of the "pioneers" in the field to suffer this. Being late to the game, in this case, could be the wisest choice.

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