“Self-steering will become a fringe taste – like baking from scratch and riding horses – but regarded as dangerous and socially irresponsible. It will be left to young men who are prone to high-risk behavior, a few type-A personalities with control issues, and some old people who just don’t like to change.” (D.C. Innes)
As of June 2015, there are 77 public-street permits in California for driverless cars, also called autonomous or self-driving cars. Not surprisingly, 48 of them are licensed to the Internet giant Google (up from just 23 in May 2015), with Tesla coming in second with 12 permits – and Mercedes-Benz having two. Google plans to test its 25 added permits on a new fleet of cars on private roads, transferring them to public roads later this summer.
Reasons for the push for driverless cars include that these vehicles are expected to:
• Reduce accidents
• Eventually eliminate most traffic congestion
• Decrease the need for highway expansion because these cars operate bumper-to-bumper at higher speeds, reducing fuel consumption and emissions
Currently, there are 306 people who are licensed to operate autonomous cars – and 202 of them are associated with Google. Sound like something you’d like to do? Here are guidelines for California drivers who’d like to be licensed for driverless cars.
Six accident reports have been filed with these driverless cars so far, five of which with Google’s vehicles. Google had already disclosed four of those accidents, stating that they happened because of human error, either the one in control of the driverless car or by another driver. The fifth accident happened in June and, since Google has committed to reporting these accidents, information will likely be forthcoming about that incident soon. Here are more specifics.
Drive via your smartphone -- and much more
Take a look at this quote (and be prepared for some British spellings): “It SOUNDS like a scene from a James Bond film. BMW has revealed a car that can drive itself around a multistorey car park and then manoeuvre itself into a bay – all at the touch of a smartwatch. When the owner returns, weighed down with bags of shopping, the car will come and meet them.”
BMW calls this feature “remote valet parking” and they did the big reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Meanwhile, here is a demonstration of the current park assist feature available from BMW, which is still cool all by itself.
Another feature revealed by BMW at the Consumer Electronics Show involves a camera that’s embedded in the headline between the driver and passenger. And, if a phone call comes in, point a finger and move it towards the screen to answer the call. Move your finger to the right – and you’ve declined the call. If the screen is in music mode, you can adjust the volume by making a finger circle. Lost? Point two fingers at the screen to get directions home.
Sitting in the rear? You really can become a back-seat driver through your Samsung tablet. You can adjust the car’s temperature, the music or movie that’s playing or your seat’s position with just a few quick clicks.
Also revealed at the show was Driver Assist technology, in development by Hyundai. This technology tells drivers how to reach a destination, but “also displays upcoming street signs, warns the driver of other vehicles that are likely to cut them off, and helps them navigate difficult turns and exits with easy-to-follow arrows on the monitor. It also has a warning system that alerts the driver of pedestrians and animals in the car’s path and will automatically brake if they are too close.”
This car can also monitor drivers’ heart rates and pull itself over and call for emergency help if the driver suffers signs of a heart attack. For more on that subject, see our previous blog post titled Cars of the Future: Personalized Ambulances.
To put its money where its mouth is, Audi had its A7 Piloted Driving concept car drive to the Las Vegas Convention Center from Palo Alto, California, traveling for more than 550 miles without the human in the driver’s seat taking charge. The car safely changed lanes and passed other vehicles. The car can recognize SUVs, trucks and police cars, distinguishing them from more ordinary cars, and can spot pedestrians, even those partially blocked by parked cars.
All of this technology takes real computer power, so Audi invested in the Tegra X1 superchip that allows a car to “learn” how to drive via the computer’s training algorithm. Although the Tegra X1 is only the size of a thumbnail, it’s said to have the power of a room-sized supercomputer from only ten years ago.
Mercedes-Benz displayed the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, where passengers can rotate bucket seats to face one another while the car automatically drives, a seating arrangement not available since the days of horse and buggy. Door panel touchscreens allow passengers to make video calls, surf the web and post on social media. LED lighting on the outside of the vehicle tells pedestrians whether the car is being driven by a person (white lights) or autonomously (blue lights). Plus, the car can project a virtual crosswalk to let pedestrians know how to safely cross the street when near the vehicle.
All of this new technology can seem exciting – or scary. To calm fears, journalists were taken on a ride with a Volkswagen Passat with Cruise4U technology, which allows for autopilot steering, accelerating and braking.
What does the future hold for driverless cars?
Ford Motor Company is predicting that vehicles will have “fully autonomous navigation and parking” after 2025. Ford already has its own automated research vehicle, released at the end of 2013 in an experiment with State Farm Insurance and the University of Michigan to develop ways for cars to “’communicate with each other and the world around them to make driving safer’ and reduce congestion.”
This vehicle contains sensors that scan up to 200 feet of roadway, “using light in the same way that a bat or dolphin uses sound waves.” Meanwhile, some Ford cars can already send a signal when another vehicle has entered a driver’s blind spot, and the steering wheel vibrates when the driver is veering out of his or her lane.
IHS Automotive agrees that self-driving cars will debut for the average person around 2025, and predicts that, in the first year, about 2/10 of 1% of sales will be self-drivers. That would be about 230,000 cars of the projected 115 million car sales anticipated for that year. Within twenty years of their debut, IHS expects that driverless cars will account for about nine percent of car sales.
So, how are you feeling about all of this? Excited? Anxious to own a self-driver? Or, do you like driving too much?
About a year and a half ago, Advance Auto Parts talked to experts about automated vehicles, including Phil Floraday, senior web editor of Automobile Magazine. Phil open admitted that he wasn’t thrilled about the trend, saying that, “I want people to have the driving experience. Face it, at Automobile, we still like manual transmissions. We believe in man-machine interaction because of the amount of joy you can get from really good transmission, from really good brakes. You blend into the car and become like one.”
Fast forward to today. On June 22, 2015, WorldMag.com published an article by D.C. Innes, who is an associate professor of politics at The King’s College, titled The car of the future and our future in cars. Innes believes that, “Despite our love for the wheel, we may be drawn inexorably into going driverless.” He blames insurance companies, saying that carriers will most likely charge high premiums to people who want to steer their own vehicles.
Time of transition
The transition to driverless cars will be – and has already been – gradual. In 2013, we’d talked to Steve Garfink of Seer Communication. Steve consults with companies, research groups and governmental agencies that are focusing on the transition from human driving to autonomous driving. He shared a rating system where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) lists five levels, some of which have already taken place:
• Level 0: no automation, with the driver needing to be in complete control of steering, braking and the like at all times
•Level 1: function-specific automation, where vehicles have at least one automated feature, such as adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, which help a driver brake more quickly
• Level 2: the combination of two or more autonomous technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering; in this level, a driver must be prepared to take manual control of his or her vehicle back at any time. Some of these technologies may only be workable in highway driving, in favorable weather conditions and the like.
• Level 3: in this level, drivers will not need to constantly monitor road conditions; rather, he or she will be given a reasonable amount of time to transition from the autonomous driving experience to the more traditional manual driving; in theory, a driver of a level 3 car would, according to Steve, presumably “be free to talk on the phone, text, read the paper, or do whatever else they want knowing they will have plenty of reaction time before they have to pay attention to the road.” When this type of driving becomes available, a long trip could become a productive time, without the “tension of navigating among the big rigs plying” the highway.
• Level 4: the vehicle can handle all “safety-critical driving functions,” and can simply provide destination/navigation information; this vehicle could be occupied or unoccupied.
Steve gave a couple more predictions:
• In California – and perhaps other places – there will be no new regulations until a vehicle reaches level 2.
• Drivers may treat level 2 vehicles, where a driver must be prepared to take back control at any time, as level 3, where more transition time from driverless to driver-controlled exists. It will be interesting, Steve says, to see the effects of that on road safety.
Editor's note: What are your thoughts about driverless cars? Share them in the comments below! And know that, as cars evolve, Advance Auto Parts will keep providing you with what you need to maintain and upgrade your vehicles.