Read while com­mut­ing? Self-driv­ing cars have you cov­ered

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

LOS AN­GE­LES: Ever dreamt of kick­ing back, let­ting go of the wheel and read­ing the pa­per on the com­mute to work? In large cities, that could soon be a re­al­ity, say auto man­u­fac­tur­ers. Semi­au­tonomous cars have al­ready hit the road, ca­pa­ble of gaug­ing dis­tance, ac­cel­er­at­ing and break­ing au­to­mat­i­cally, and rec­ti­fy­ing the sit­u­a­tion if, say, a dis­tracted driver ap­proaches an­other car too quickly.

Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti got be­hind the wheel of one such ve­hi­cle, a Volvo XC90, as he kicked off a con­nected car ex­hi­bi­tion at this week’s Los An­ge­les auto show. “I think that 20 years from now it’s go­ing to be the norm,” he said in a seg­ment broad­cast on tele­vi­sion net­work ABC.

The ve­hi­cles are meant to help out “in case of com­mute and con­ges­tion,” when driv­ers are most frus­trated, Mar­cus Rothoff, Volvo’s au­ton­o­mous driv­ing pro­gram di­rec­tor told AFP. Au­tomak­ers are now fo­cused on the next gen­er­a­tion of smart ve­hi­cles: the fully au­ton­o­mous car, which would al­low driv­ers to read, watch a movie, or even send emails.

Such ve­hi­cles are a dream for res­i­dents of large cities like Los An­ge­les, the cap­i­tal of US traf­fic jams, where driv­ers fre­quently spend two hours a day on the road. “We plan to put 100 au­ton­o­mous cars in con­sumer hands by the end of 2017,” Lex Kersse­mak­ers, head of Amer­i­can oper­a­tions for the Swedish au­tomaker said Wed­nes­day in Los An­ge­les.

Who will be re­spon­si­ble? Man­u­fac­tur­ers world­wide are rac­ing to cap­ture the huge mar­ket po­ten­tial. Ja­pan’s Nis­san has said it wants to put a self-driv­ing ve­hi­cle on Ja­panese high­ways by 2016. Honda and Toy­ota are tar­get­ing 2020. The driver will sim­ply en­ter a des­ti­na­tion and the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, sen­sors and soft­ware will do the rest. Al­ready In­ter­net gi­ant Google is test­ing pro­to­types in its Sil­i­con Val­ley strong­hold. And US auto gi­ant Gen­eral Mo­tors and Tesla are work­ing on their own ver­sions. Tesla has al­ready equipped its lat­est cars with soft­ware that al­lows them to par­al­lel park au­to­mat­i­cally. Volvo on Wed­nes­day in Los An­ge­les un­veiled a pro­to­type of the in­te­rior of its self-driv­ing cars. Once on au­topi­lot, the driver’s seat re­clines and a screen on the pas­sen­ger side of­fers movies and the In­ter­net.

“Within this decade the tech­nol­ogy can be avail­able,” said Jes­sica Cald­well, an an­a­lyst at Ed­munds.com. “The key ques­tion is the re­spon­si­bil­ity: What hap­pens if the car hits a school bus or kills its driver? Th­ese ques­tions will take more time,” Cald­well said, even though the ve­hi­cles have a much faster re­ac­tion time “than for a hu­man.”

Rothoff said driv­ers must “trust the sys­tem be­cause if you don’t trust it you can­not use this (spare) time in a good way” for other ac­tiv­i­ties like read­ing. The ob­jec­tive is for the tech­nol­ogy to be so re­li­able that the man­u­fac­turer can tell cus­tomers that they won’t be re­spon­si­ble for any ac­ci­dents while on au­topi­lot, he said. — AFP

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