Automated cars: ready when you are
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.