Hitachi sees itself as top self-driving tech source

TOKYO -- Hitachi looks to make a name for itself as a premier producer of comprehensive self-driving systems for midsize automakers, whose limited budgets prevent them from spending big in this rapidly growing field.

The Japanese conglomerate on Friday unveiled its first self-driving car prototype. The vehicle itself was sourced from Subaru maker Fuji Heavy Industries. But key technologies, including sensors and a control unit for speed and direction, were all Hitachi's.

"We are the only company in the world that brings together all the technologies necessary for automated driving," boasted Atsushi Kawabata, chief technology officer of Hitachi Automotive Systems, at the course in Hokkaido where the car was tested.

Bringing it together

Hitachi's prototype hardly stands out at first glance. But the plain exterior hides a bundle of proprietary technology: stereo cameras modeled on the human eye, positioning cameras on all sides, and a radar device monitoring the car's surroundings. A GPS system, meanwhile, allows the car to grasp its location down to the lane on high-precision maps, while devices communicating with other cars help keep track of conditions ahead.

The centerpiece of the project is a small silver box -- the control unit coordinating the car's components. Two processors rapidly analyse data from the cameras and sensors. A demonstration Friday included lane changes, detection of vehicles 200 meters down the road and far-off cars parked in the street, in addition to deft automated parking, among other feats. The technology is highway-usable, on a par with that from automakers. Hitachi hopes to commercialize its system within three years.

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