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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Self-driving car technology moves to forefront at NAIAS

Once relegated to convention center
basements, test tracks and tech shows, self-
driving cars and the technology behind them
are center stage at the North American
International Auto Show.
Wholly autonomous vehicles for mainstream
drivers may be years off, but parts of the self-
driving experience are on display now at
Detroit's Cobo Center: three-dimensional
cameras, lane-correction devices and other
tools that increasingly remove the driver from
the tasks of steering, braking and accelerating.
There's even a self-driving concept car with a
sort of built-in lounge: The Mercedes-Benz F
015 concept has walnut flooring and seats
that swivel to facilitate conversation.
It's a sign automakers believe consumers are
becoming increasingly interested and prepared
for these kinds of innovations.
"We don't think you can introduce sort of the
'Jetsons' era right away," said Brad Stertz, a
spokesman for Audi, which debuted a self-
piloting A7 sportback last week at the
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "By
building it step by step, you build people's
confidence."
The goal is to reduce human error in driving,
which some studies blame for as much as 93
percent of accidents.
Cadillac took a huge step toward that when
General Motors Co. announced it would offer
Super Cruise in its 2016 Cadillac sedan. The
system will allow the car to automatically keep
in its lane, brake and accelerate. The Detroit-
based automaker also said some of its 2017
models will have vehicle-to-vehicle
communication to share information on speed
and location.
In an interview Tuesday, the show's second
press preview day, Cadillac President Johan
de Nysschen said the automaker has the
capability to put a self-driving car on the road
today. But it's limited in what it can do right
now, he said, because of unresolved ethical
and legal issues.
"Once we know what we legally can and
cannot do, and the liability issues have been
resolved, then we can decide how to turn all
the capability on," he said.
With its concept car shown in Detroit,
Mercedes-Benz took a far-off look at the
future. Fully autonomous vehicles will be in
showrooms between 2020 and 2030, said
Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche.
"This is soon," Zetsche said. People must be
assured that autonomous cars are at least as
safe as human drivers, but "it sounds easier
than it is," he said.
Also at the show this week, Chairman of the
Board of Managers Rupert Stadler said Audi
plans to invest the majority of $30 billion in
the next five years into self-piloted driving and
connected-car technology. Last week, the
automaker invited reporters to travel in the
self-driving Audi for the 500 miles between
Palo Alto, California, and Las Vegas.
Chris Urmson, who oversees autonomous
vehicle research for Google, often regarded as
the pioneer and leader in self-piloted vehicle
technology, will speak Thursday to industry
executives and insiders at the Automotive
World Congress in Detroit. The forum is
always the same week as the auto show
media previews.
Even the U.S. Army is on board. Its display at
Cobo includes two vehicles capable of driving
themselves: an electric transport shuttle called
the Aribo, which could be used on military
bases; and a tactical vehicle outfitted with a
kit that allows it to self-pilot while moving
supplies, thereby reducing the risk to soldiers.
"We should be keeping pace with the
commercial automotive industry in the safety
features we are putting in our vehicles," said
Ed Schoenherr, an Army engineer with Tank
Automotive Research Development and
Engineering Command.
He and others told Gov. Rick Snyder during a
tour Tuesday that there is plenty of cross-talk
between automakers and the Army about
autonomous vehicles.
"We want to keep that up," Snyder said.
Basics already on market
"A lot of the basic building blocks of what you
need to have in autonomous vehicles are in
the marketplace now," said Sam Abuelsamid,
a senior research analyst with Navigant
research. "Over time, engineers have to
integrate these systems to work together ...
creating situational awareness of what's going
on outside of the body of that vehicle and
respond to the things going on around it."
Although the technology has come a long way,
Chris Borroni-Bird, a vice president of
strategic development at Qualcomm
Technologies and a former General Motors Co.
engineer, said that may not be the biggest
problem. "These other issues, the consumer
acceptance and legal issues, are important to
address."
Buyers appear to be open to the idea. A
survey conducted in September by Boston
Consulting Group found 55 percent of
consumers said they would be "likely or very
likely buy a partially self-driving car within
approximately five years." About 20 percent
said they would pay more than $5,000 extra
for features such as highway or urban
autopilot.
The firm estimates a market opportunity of
about $42 billion will exist for self-driving
vehicles by 2025.
That leaves the legal issues. Mike O'Brien,
vice president of corporate and product
planning for Hyundai, is also an airplane pilot.
He knows that if he is using autopilot and the
plane crashes, he would be held responsible.
But when it comes to self-driving cars, no
government agency has determined who
would be at fault for an accident, damage or
death.
He's not sure what role automakers should
have in those discussions.
"I'm not sure if we lead or follow with the legal
issues," said O'Brien. "We're more focused on
the product."
UM builds roadway test site
Although Michigan doesn't allow for the
testing of self-piloted cars on main roadways,
the University of Michigan is stepping up with
M City, a replica of a roadway with up to five
lanes, intersections, roundabouts, roadway
markings and other topography.
It will allow automakers to "test new
approaches in a safe, controlled and realistic
environment," said Peter Sweatman, director
of the U-M's Mobility Transformation Center.
For now, automakers will continue to develop
technologies while moving into a future that
will undoubtedly involve some kind of vehicle
autonomy.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Chief Technology
Officer Harald Wester said automated and
autonomous technologies are a "natural
evolution" to what companies are currently
doing.
At the auto show Monday, Wester said new
active technologies that assist drivers likely
will not fit every situation — but they will
eventually become a part of everyone's daily
driving experience.
"It will be a huge help and support," he said.
"It will significantly help to increase safety,
avoid unnecessary incidents, injuries,
fatalities."

Source: Detroit News.

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