Development of self-driving cars unites businesses

The Yomiuri Shimbun

By Takashi Itoda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Business collaborations among competing companies or across different business sectors are being accelerated for research and development of self-driving car technologies.

In order to realize perfect self-driving cars, in which passengers leave all controls to the systems, it is essential to have highly precise three-dimensional maps as well as positional information, and to develop wireless communication systems.

The collaborative moves are occurring because it is difficult for an individual company to invest in projects by itself to realize such goals.

Five companies — including Hitachi Zosen Corp., the Development Bank of Japan and Denso Corp. — established a co-funded company, Global Positioning Augmentation Service Corp. (GPAS) on June 15.

GPAS will develop technologies for positional measurements with a margin of error within only centimeters by using such other technologies as Michibiki-2, one of Japan’s quasi-zenith satellites, which was launched on June 1.

A company to develop three-dimensional maps that was jointly capitalized by 15 firms — including Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Subaru Corp. and Zenrin Co., a major producer of maps — decided to receive new investment from some of the original companies as well as the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, a public-private support fund, and Daihatsu Motor Co.

The company will increase its capital to ¥4 billion, which is 13 times larger than the amount with which it started just over a year ago, and changed its name to Dynamic Map Platform Co. as of June 30.

By integrating knowledge of the concerned companies, Dynamic Map Platform intends to produce three-dimensional maps, which cover about 30,000 kilometers of roads, including expressways, by fiscal 2018.

The company also aims to lead in making international standards of three-dimensional maps with a technological tie-up with HERE, a major European map producer.

Meanwhile, executives of various companies will join a panel of experts established by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry in December 2016 to examine tasks for “connected cars.”

The companies are major automakers, Panasonic Corp., NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp., SoftBank Group Corp. and others.

Across business sector boundaries, the companies aim to develop technologies necessary for self-driving cars to run on ordinary roads, where there are traffic signals and intersections and where pedestrians come and go.

The government categorizes self-driving technologies into five levels.

Levels 1 and 2, with systems to assist drivers such as automatic brakes and functions for following vehicles running in front, are in stages of practical use.

The government assumes that it will be after 2020 when Level 3 or higher levels, with which drivers will be able to leave such actions as changing lanes to the systems, will be realized.

In order to realize Levels 3 to 5, which require higher levels of technologies, it is necessary to accumulate detailed data, such as how roads are curved and graded.

Each of the concerned companies shares enormous time and costs for the purpose. To accelerate the developments, the companies are strengthening collaboration.

“For proliferation of self-driving cars, it is essential to have understanding among members of society and insurance to cope with accidents. We also need to expand the range of cooperation to fields other than technological aspects,” said Akiko Narita of SC-ABeam Automotive Consulting.Speech

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