Au­to­mated cars: ready when you are

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Car News - JOSHUA DOWL­ING joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

FANCY be­ing driven to work ev­ery day, or have some­one else han­dle the grind of hol­i­day traf­fic? The “auto” is about to be put into the car.

The world’s big­gest car mak­ers have formed an al­liance to come up with tech­nol­ogy that will en­able mod­ern ve­hi­cles to talk to each other to pre­vent crashes, tak­ing con­trol away from driv­ers by brak­ing in an emer­gency or even swerv­ing to avoid a col­li­sion.

The tech will en­able traf­fic sig­nals to talk to cars — if gov­ern­ments de­cide to make tcostly and ex­ten­sive up­grades.

“Car to car” tech­nol­ogy will be show­room-ready within three years, leg­is­la­tion per­mit­ting, but it has cre­ated a new dilemma: how much con­trol should be taken away from the driver?

Ger­man brand Audi has de­vel­oped au­to­mated driv­ing us­ing radars, lasers, cam­eras, ul­tra­sonic sen­sors and the builtin sat­nav to en­able cars to “pilot” them­selves. It un­veiled its lat­est ex­per­i­men­tal ve­hi­cle by hav­ing it drive it­self on stage at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas (pic­tured), with the ex­ec­u­tives in the rear seat.

The cir­cuit-board that con­trols the elec­tronic chauf­feur pro­cesses 2.5 bil­lion bits of in­for­ma­tion a se­cond and is the size and thick­ness of an iPad. A year ago, the com­puter equip­ment run­ning the same ex­per­i­men­tal setup took the en­tire boot-space of a car.

“We are not rein­vent­ing the car, we are re­defin­ing mo­bil­ity,” says Audi chair­man Ru­pert Stadler. For now, Audi’s self­driv­ing car will be restricted to free­ways that meet new Euro­pean stan­dards and have spe­cial lane mark­ings.

But Audi and oth­ers are de­vel­op­ing cam­era tech­nol­ogy that can read traf­fic light sig­nals; some cars can al­ready “read” speed limit signs, al­though in Aus­tralia, for now, they oc­ca­sion­ally get tripped up by the “40km/h” sym­bols on the back of buses, for ex­am­ple.

Audi is in a race with fel­low Ger­mans BMW, MercedesBenz and Volkswagen to be first to in­tro­duce the tech­nol­ogy. Swe­den’s Volvo and Ja­pan’s Toy­ota are also pur­su­ing au­to­mated driv­ing sys­tems.

All are de­bat­ing the pros and cons of driver in­ter­fer­ence, while wait­ing for gov­ern­ments to leg­is­late.

In the US, Ne­vada and Cal­i­for­nia laws al­low ex­emp­tions for driver­less cars to be tested on pub­lic roads un­der strict con­di­tions, largely as a re­sult of the de­vel­op­ment of au­to­mated tech­nol­ogy by Google Maps cars.

The same al­lowances have been made in lo­cal­i­ties in Europe and Ja­pan. Aus­tralian reg­u­la­tions are yet to al­low driver­less cars.

Which brand will be first with an au­to­mated car? Audi head of tech­nol­ogy Ul­rich Hack­en­berg says “it de­pends on the cy­cle of the cars”, re­fer­ring the likely re­lease dates of new mod­els, which are typ­i­cally set at least five years in ad­vance and have limited flex­i­bil­ity.

Audi is most likely to de­but the tech­nol­ogy on its next $200,000 limou­sine, the A8, due in 2016. The tech­nol­ogy ul­ti­mately will ap­pear in city hatch­backs some time next decade, Hack­en­berg says.

Last year Volvo showed self­park­ing tech­nol­ogy that en­abled the ex­per­i­men­tal ve­hi­cle to park it­self us­ing a mo­bile phone app.

“Cars will be­come the largest so­cial mo­bile de­vice peo­ple own,” Hack­en­berg says.

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