Honda has tested a prototype car that can safely drive itself on the road while the driver's hands are off the wheel on public roads in Detroit.
The test vehicle – an Acura RLX sedan – has cameras that monitor lane marking and multiple radar sensors on the front and sides to judge it road position and the proximity of other vehicles.
A beacon on the roof uses laser beams to continually scan the car's surroundings, similar to self-driving prototypes already introduced by Google, Ford and Toyota, and GPS helps the car to stay on a previously mapped course and follow the speed limit.
The company is showing the car this week, alongside virtual tow technology that creates a wireless link between two cars to allow one to tow the other, at the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Detroit – an annual gathering of engineers and other researchers.
Honda says the technology could start appearing on its cars from 2020, but while the company has only been working on this prototype car in Japan for about a year, it is the result of decades of safety research, according the car's chief engineer Hironobu Kiryu.
"Honda is aiming to eliminate accidents, not just for the driver but for pedestrians and drivers of other cars," he added.
On a loop around Detroit, the car's driver took his hands off the wheel as the car entered the motorway. It accelerated to the speed limit and applied the brakes if it got too close to a car in front.
It also signalled to change lanes and waited for an opening. The car merged easily onto two other motorways and edged to the left to avoid a construction zone. To exit, the car reduced its speed to 35 miles per hour on the ramp.
The driver's hands remained off the wheel for the entire eight-mile loop, but Honda says the car will automatically return control to the driver if it senses it cannot handle a situation. For example, if a vehicle cuts in front of the Honda too closely and fast braking is needed.
Another technology Honda will display at the conference is the firm’s a virtual tow system, which allows a driver in need of assistance to alert nearby vehicles that it is in distress before letting the assisting driver virtually link up and "tow" the car using connected-car technology by giving the trailing car driving cues from the leading car.
It will also showcase a system based on dedicated short-range communications technology that can alert car drivers, motorcyclists and cyclists or pedestrians using a smartphone app of potential collisions.
"The creation and deployment of advanced, intelligent transportation systems represent the new frontier in the effort to one day eliminate traffic collisions, injuries and fatalities," said Frank Paluch, president of Honda R&D Americas.
"We will demonstrate our vision for realising Honda's dream of a collision-free society by showcasing our continued technological innovations in active safety, connected and automated vehicle technology."