Korea shifts gear to rev up autonomous driving

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Korea shifts gear to rev up autonomous driving

As early as July, autonomous vehicles could be plying the streets of Korea.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Sunday announced it has adopted Level 3 safety standards for autonomous driving, making Korea the first country in world to do so.

This means that starting in the second half of this year, manufacturers will be allowed to sell Level 3 autonomous vehicles, which maneuver on their own under restricted conditions.

Level 1 and Level 2 vehicles merely have driving assistance systems, whereas Level 3 to Level 5 autonomous vehicles can be driven hands-free.

Level 5 is a fully autonomous vehicle.

In a Level 3 vehicle, called conditional driving automation, a driver needs to take control in such situations as changing lanes or in emergency situation including collisions.

The vehicle has the ability to maintain a minimum safe distance from vehicles ahead of it.

Level 3 vehicles are equipped with safety features including alerts for the driver 15 seconds before unexpected situations such as exiting a highway or approaching road construction.

If the driver fails to respond within 10 seconds, the vehicle has the ability to reduce its speed and turn on the flashing emergency lights.

The vehicle’s dual system allows the driver to immediately take over when the autonomous driving system fails.

The ministry said it will continue to work on small changes to the safety standards over the next six months while coming up with a system to certify the autonomous vehicles’ abilities.

“Korea will lead in international standards on autonomous vehicles by actively engaging in the international safety standard discussion,” said Lee Chang-gi, director of the ministry’s advanced motor vehicles division.

Level 3 is one of the six levels classified by the U.S. Society of Automotive Engineers. Level 0 is the lowest with no self-driving technologies, and Level 5 at a fully autonomous vehicle that requires no driver’s input at all.

Although the German automaker Audi was the first to introduce a Level 3 automated driving system, its autonomous vehicle wasn’t able to be sold due to regulations.

With the government’s adoption of the Level 3 autonomous vehicle safety standard, development and the actual launch of such vehicles is theoretically possible.

The Japanese manufacturer Honda already plans to use its Level 3 technology on its luxury Legend model this summer. Other major automotive companies such as Germany’s Mercedes-Benz are also vying to launch their own Level 3 vehicles this summer.

Korea’s leading automotive company, Hyundai Motor, plans to launch Level 3 autonomous vehicle in 2021 and then Level 4 vehicles - which communicate with each other - in 2024.

The Moon Jae-in government’s goal is to commercialize Level 4 autonomous vehicles by 2027.

The government plans on setting up infrastructure including wireless networks for vehicles on major roads and 3-D maps.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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