Japan Working on 3D Maps to Make Self-Driving Cars More Accurate

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Three-dimensional maps that enhance the accuracy of self-driving technology have been under development through cooperation between the public and private sectors. They are likely to be put into practical use by March 2019 for all expressways and other highways for automobiles that are about 30,000 kilometres in total in both directions.

The 3D maps will be sold to automobile manufacturers and other entities. The completion of the 3D maps will become an important base for the practical use of self-driving cars by 2020, a goal the government has set to be realised.

Self-driving technology requires three main functions:

– A “cognitive function” to understand the locations of automobiles and their surrounding situations with cameras and sensors.

– A “judgment function” to choose the appropriate response, depending on the situation, using artificial intelligence or other devices.

– An “operational function” to control the driving operation based on the judgment function.

The 3D maps are intended to support the cognitive function, as well as concretely express both information to understand areas around a vehicle – including lane lines and centre lines – and information on driving restrictions, such as speed limits.

By combining information from 3D maps with data based on the global positioning system, self-driving cars would be able to avoid crashing into the side of the road and run at a safe speed. In that sense, 3D maps are different from car navigation systems, which have the main aim of giving information on driving directions.

The entities that are promoting the 3D map development are the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, a public-private fund that the government has a more than 90 percent investment in; main map publisher Zenrin Co.; and Dynamic Map Platform Co., a Tokyo-based development company that automakers, such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., have invested in. Since summer last year, they have accumulated data through self-driving cars that have been equipped with cameras and other devices and that have run on roads.

Dynamic Map Platform is seeking high-precision maps to lead them to enhanced self-driving technology and a safe driving support system, setting the goal of limiting errors of automobiles’ locations on 3D maps to within 25 centimeters. In the future, the company also plans to create 3D maps for self-driving cars on ordinary roads.

The government announced 3D maps for self-driving cars as an important item in the Comprehensive Strategy on Science, Technology and Innovation 2016, which was decided at a Cabinet meeting in May 2016. A development company was established for that purpose in June 2016.

The government is promoting the public-private project to avoid a situation in which each company collects the same information on roads and to standardise 3D maps.

The government positions the practical use of self-driving cars as a pillar of its growth strategy, hoping it produces results, such as helping the smooth transport of elderly people and solving a labour shortage in the logistics field.

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