Japan Grants First Level 4 Autonomous Vehicle Approval

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) have announced the country’s first approval for a Level 4 autonomous vehicle system. The approval, granted on March 30, is part of the RoAD to the L4 project, a joint initiative aimed at developing advanced mobility services.

The project, launched in 2021, has been working towards the goal of starting remote-monitored autonomous mobility services on former railway lines by the end of the 2022 fiscal year. This goal is outlined in the “New Capitalism Grand Design and Execution Plan Follow-up (June 7, 2022).” To achieve this, the METI and MLIT have been collaborating with a consortium comprised of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Soliton Systems, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, and Yamaha Motor.

The consortium has been conducting tests of a remote-controlled autonomous driving system in Eiheiji, Fukui Prefecture. AIST submitted an application to the MLIT Chubu Transport Bureau for the Level 4 autonomous vehicle system, which was granted approval on March 30, marking the first such approval in Japan.

With the recent amendment to the Road Traffic Act, set to take effect on April 1, the Level 4 technology and services demonstration will be carried out using the newly approved system, called “ZEN drive Pilot Level 4.”

The ZEN drive Pilot Level 4 system eliminates the need for a human driver, both in the vehicle and at a remote location. Previously, a human operator was required to take over in emergencies. However, the new system can autonomously handle various driving tasks, such as starting, stopping, and emergency braking, based on its assessment of the vehicle’s surroundings.

The approved system is designed to operate within specific conditions set by the MLIT, including driving on electromagnetic induction lines and avoiding operation during inclement weather. The autonomous vehicles will travel at a maximum speed of 12 km/h.

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