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Driverless tech: The race to be global leader 

Oct 17. 2016
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The competition between Japan, the United States and Europe to develop self-driving vehicles is speeding up.


It is vital that Japan’s public and private sectors strengthen cooperation so our nation can be at the forefront of creating international rules in this field, such as safety standards.

Toyota and Suzuki corporations have announced they will consider a business tie-up in advanced automobile technology fields, including self-driving and more eco-friendly vehicles.

In developing next-generation technologies, “finding partners to work with will become an important element heading up to standardisation,” said Toyota president Akio Toyoda last week.

By increasing the number of members in its camp, Toyota aims to make its own technology the international standard. It seems even Toyota, one of the world’s leading automobile sellers, has a sense of crisis regarding the surge in technological innovation.

Self-driving technology is being put to practical use for ensuring vehicles do not stray out of lane while driving on expressways and maintain a certain distance from vehicles around them.

The world’s main automakers are working toward having vehicles that are completely autonomous on the roads in the first half of the 2020s.

Self-driving vehicles will be brimming with advanced information technologies. Accordingly, it will be essential to develop new safety measures, such as preparing for cyber-attacks that attempt to hijack vehicle operations.

Competition in the United States to develop these vehicles is transcending industries, as exemplified by IT giant Google Inc conducting demonstration tests involving its own fully autonomous vehicle. In Japan also, electric machinery, materials and other related industries – not just automakers – should join forces.

The private sector is leading the development of self-driving vehicles, and public safety standards are yet to be established.

At the World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations which is an expert council under the umbrella of the United Nations, the Japanese government together with the European Union and other nations are drawing up common standards.

The forum plans to compile, perhaps as soon as next year, standards for self-driving functions for expressways and other criteria. It is hugely significant that Japan is actively involved, from the viewpoint of getting Japanese technologies to become international standards.

It is worrying that the United States, which is a major market for Japanese cars, is participating in only a part of this framework.

In September, the United States announced its own self-driving vehicle guidelines. They listed detailed screening standards, such as for checking how a self-driving vehicle manages a system malfunction. If Japanese automakers want to run self-driving vehicles in the United States, including for test runs, they will have to abide by this framework.

Japan’s government must move carefully to ensure differing standards do not end up forcing Japanese automakers to double their development investments in the future.

Transport ministers from the Group of Seven advanced nations, which includes the United States, recently met in Nagano Prefecture. We welcome their agreement to cooperate to make autonomous vehicles a reality at an early date.

There are expectations that self-driving vehicles will be useful in many ways, such as preventing accidents and relieving traffic congestion. We hope a sound environment conducive to their development will be established.

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