Autonomous Roundup

Consumer acceptance of autonomous driving seems to be growing, in part fueled by intense media hype that kicked into high gear during January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

In fact, Jeremy Carlson, senior analyst, ADAS/automotive technology at IHS, says automakers have begun advertising advanced safety features – even during Super Bowl commercials. Carlson says, "I think all the talk about autonomous driving will help warm consumers up. But we are not at the point yet where it's a complete disadvantage to not have some of this technology."

However, he adds, autonomous emergency braking systems have been rewarded by the Euro NCAP system, and NHTSA put crash-imminent braking on its recommended technology list.

"Crash-test ratings are important to consumers. So you will see more and more of these becoming standard — and that will make it easier to build other [advanced safety or automated-driving] applications on top of them," Carlson says.

Making cars better drivers

Enough autonomous miles have been driven by various demonstration cars to prove that, undoubtedly, vehicles with enough equipment can successfully drive themselves on freeways or pre-mapped roadways. But full autonomy requires cars to make lightning-fast assessments of complex situations in order to make the right decision.

In fact, despite all the discussion of how autonomous driving can reduce driver-caused accidents, research by Michael Sivak, of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, found that, "It is not a foregone conclusion that a self-driving vehicle would ever perform more safely than an experienced, middle-aged driver."

Of course, "experienced, middle-aged driver" leaves out a lot of drivers. So OEMs and tier 1s continue to try to fill that judgment gap with technology.

Most recently, Volvo Cars introduced a system that would integrate autonomous cars into regular traffic – potentially solving one of the hurdles for making self-driving cars a reality. The system, part of Volvo's two-year-old Drive Me initiative, will be used in a public pilot on selected roads near Gothenburg, Sweden, by 2017, according to Volvo. Gothenburg is also the site of AstaZero, a special testing facility for autonomy that receives substantial support from Volvo.

The Drive Me system includes the kinds of redundancies necessary to make truly autonomous driving safe, for example, a second, independent system to brake the vehicle to a stop. There's also a redundant network of computers to process information from sensors.

Volvo says Drive Me will be able to handle more complex driving situations, thanks to the 360-degree view of surroundings achieved with multiple cameras, radars and laser sensors. GPS and a high-definition, continuously updated three-dimensional digital map will make the system reliable enough to work without driver supervision. A cloud service connects to traffic authorities' control centers to provide current traffic information, and Volvo says that traffic authorities will have the ability to tell drivers to turn off autonomous drive mode if necessary. While Drive Me is a couple of years away, the continuous-wave radar and camera in the windscreen will be the same as what Volvo is shipping now for the XC90 SUV.

Delphi, which was one of the earliest companies to get an autonomous vehicle onto public roads and also to obtain a license in Nevada, has partnered with Ottomatika, a Carnegie Mellon spin-off that provides advanced automated driving software. Delphi's active safety technologies will be integrated with Ottomatika’s automated driving software. According to the two companies, the combination will produce a technology platform that will enable a vehicle to "make human-like decisions when driving in the city or on the highway. The platform can make complex decisions like stopping and proceeding at a four-way stop, timing a highway merge or calculating the safest maneuver around a bicyclist on a city street.

Ford is taking, in part, a virtual approach to developing the smarts of autonomous cars. It recently expanded its research facilities in Silicon Valley and also expanded its relationship with Stanford University by contributing a Fusion Hybrid autonomous research vehicle to the Stanford engineering program. Stanford's students will test the path-planning and path-prediction algorithms that Ford researchers have developed over the past year.

Besides the in-car testing, the team at the Palo Alto research lab developed a virtual test environment based on gaming software, called aDRIVE, short for Autonomous Driving Refined in Virtual Environments. This lets them test algorithms such as recognition of traffic signs at a computer screen, instead of on a test track.

Says Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering for Ford, "There are still a lot of unanswered questions about which algorithms need to be refined and honed. Building the virtual environment will allow us to do testing more rapidly. "

But there are many HMI issues to be addressed, and Visteon aims to help OEMs figure this out with an autonomous driving simulator that it says is in the advanced development stage – and demoed at CES 2015.

Visteon conducted consumer research to find out what consumers will want from cars, and is building them into driving simulators. The company will provide automakers with simulator hardware and software that includes custom-built scenarios that they can use to test consumer interactions with autonomous features, and it also proposes to conduct turnkey research projects for OEMs.

CES demos

Cars have been the New Big Thing at CES for the last three years, and CES 2015 was no exception. In the run-up to CES 2015, Audi showcased the latest in what it's now calling Piloted Driving. Audi staffers and journalists rode in an autonomous A7 from Palo Alto to Las Vegas, demonstrating technology that allows the car to drive at full interstate speeds without needing a car in front to follow.

Says Audi spokesman Brad Stertz, "We showed that, a few more years down the road, the car could do its own lane-keeping, and, in fact, if it came upon a car, it could turn on its signal and make a maneuver to pass and get back in the lane without any human intervention."

Audi expects to release this commercially in two to three years – which means that the automaker has already fully committed to its release. Stertz notes that it's still not clear whether or how U.S. state and federal laws, as well as laws in other countries, will allow its use. It's possible, he says, that in some markets, it won't be sold.

Stertz added that it's always been Audi's philosophy to develop and release advanced safety features leading to autonomous driving step-by-step. "A lot of people want a fully autonomous car, and a lot of people are terrified at the concept. You work on a particular skillset for the car and then add another one," he said.

Keeping with the stepping-stone approach, BMW and Continental demonstrated Remote Valet Parking Assistant at CES. A modified i3 used very precise digital mapping plus laser scanners to find a parking spot in a multi-story parking garage, and then park the car while avoiding hazards. In August 2014, Continental expanded its Silicon Valley presence by creating a new division, called Continental Intelligent Transportation Systems.

Carlson predicts we'll continue to see the democratization of advanced safety features. For example, adaptive cruise control and night vision typically have been on the more expensive end of the advanced-safety scale, but even adaptive cruise control is starting to flow down to less expensive vehicle models, he says.

This year's TU-Automotive Detroit 2015 (June 3-4) will provide the roadmap to carck the autonomous code. Check out the agenda here.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *