Futuristic cars are coming faster than you think

Apr 13, 2012 By Alisa Priddle

Cars that drive themselves are not just the stuff of sci-fi movies. The technology is real, the cars can now drive legally and the debate is starting on whether society is better off when software is behind the wheel.

Automotive supplier Continental is testing a self-driving car that, by month's end, could be among the first licensed for use on public roads in Nevada, the first state to pass laws governing driverless vehicles.

Continental, which has its U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., removed brake and steering controls in a and replaced them with sensors and advanced technology to read the surroundings and drive accordingly.

To qualify for Nevada's special license, Continental engineers have racked up and documented almost 10,000 miles of autonomous driving. That included a recent trip from Las Vegas to Brimley, Mich., where Continental has a development and testing center. More than 90 percent of the journey was without a hand on the wheel or a foot on a pedal, said Ibro Muharemovic, lead engineer of Continental's Advanced Engineering unit and one of three engineers riding shotgun.

A final trip is being planned to hit the 10,000 mark in the next few weeks.

Most of the technology is already on the market as to avoid accidents, or at least mitigate their severity.

started the debate about autonomous driving when it took a and attached sophisticated but expensive equipment so the car could drive itself.

Both companies are chasing the same goal: to reduce accidents, congestion and . With driverless cars, the age and state of the driver does not matter, and parking is not an issue when cars can drop off passengers and drive home.

"There is a strong business case for an autonomous car that can drop you off or a cab without the expense of a driver," said Ravi Pandit, CEO of KPIT Cummins, a global IT and engineering company in Pune, India.

This is the future of the auto industry, and it is happening faster than consumers realize.

TECH IS ALREADY HERE

A production semiautonomous car is still a few years from production, but much of the safety technology that makes it possible is on the market now. But the whole idea of cars driving themselves raises questions about liability and regulation and whether the public is ready to accept them.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will start studying aspects of autonomous driving in August with a one-year pilot project in Ann Arbor, Mich., to test 3,000 cars with equipment to communicate with one another to prevent accidents. Officials have expressed support for technology that addresses distracted driving and prevents accidents.

Issues still to be resolved include who is liable in a crash and whether drivers of autonomous cars are legally exempt from bans on texting.

"When you put everything together, a car can drive automatically," Muharemovic said.

"It's an exciting area and the natural progression of vehicles," Pandit said.

Most automakers have joined the quest.

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford addressed a conference in Barcelona, Spain, where he urged the telecom industry to help solve mobility problems as the world approaches global gridlock. He called for cars to communicate with one another and their surroundings.

Mercedes, BMW and Audi are among the companies developing systems that assist driving in traffic jams.

The all-new Cadillac XTS coming in May will feature a package of sensors, radar and cameras to provide 360-degree input to detect the risk of a crash and try to prevent it. Alan Taub, General Motors vice president of research and development, said in October that GM will have semiautonomous cars on the road by 2015 and fully autonomous ones by the end of the decade.

Already on the road are cars that park themselves, adjust their speed to that of the car in front, and brake, accelerate or steer when a crash is imminent.

STATES HURRY TO CATCH UP

The law also is working to catch up with the technology.

Nevada is the first state to pass a law making driverless cars legal, and bills have been introduced in Florida, Hawaii, California and Oklahoma. Arizona introduced a bill, but it failed.

Nevada's Department of Motor Vehicles Director Bruce Breslow said the new regulations "establish requirements companies must meet to test their vehicles on Nevada's public roadways, as well as requirements for residents to legally operate them in the future."

Engineers at Continental are within weeks of completing 10,000 test miles of autonomous driving with their Passat, at which point, the car will qualify to be registered legally in Nevada and receive a special red license plate allowing it to drive on designated public roads.

In the future, production driverless cars would get a green license plate.

STRESS? FORGET ABOUT IT

The Passat has driven safely through traffic congestion and shouldered the burden on long stretches of mind-numbing highway, all of which has been carefully documented.

"I was surprised by how well it worked," said Muharemovic, who made adjustments during testing. Also in the car were software and algorithm engineers from Continental in Germany.

The test Passat has a stereo camera in the windshield that monitors the ground for speed bumps or potholes, long-range radar in the front grille that looks out about 220 yards and short-range radar sensors on corners of the car to capture details of the surroundings and command the car to steer, brake and accelerate accordingly.

The sensors detect if the car in front stops, if there is a construction barrier on the right and a delivery truck cutting in from the left. The car stops and does not resume driving until the road clears; the engineers nod their approval and continue to check e-mail and send texts.

Plans for a long highway drive should be equally free of stress and fatigue because once again, the car will do the driving. The driver takes over control only to pass or change lanes.

"We still have a long way to go, but the technology is amazing," said Christian Schumacher, director of engineering systems and technology for Continental in North America.

Like cruise control, the self-driving mode can be tapped on and off. "The driver is always in control and can override the system any time," Muharemovic said.

The driver must stay awake and pay enough attention to satisfy a camera in the vehicle that is monitoring him or her and will make warning sounds threatening to revert to automatic control.

"We're looking at reducing accidents and deaths," Muharemovic said of Continental's plans to build more test vehicles to hone the technology.

Pandit believes safety is not a concern. "A car can see better than a human can, and the car responds faster," he said.

GOOGLE STILL IN THE GAME

Google's more ambitious goal of a fully is further out. The seven Google test cars on the road rely on a spinning $70,000 Lidar, a laser-range finder that acts like a set of eyes to map the surroundings and compare the data against GPS and other onboard systems.

"The Google car is more capable but the cost is (higher by) a factor of 1,000," Schumacher said, compared with Continental's semiautonomous solution.

"I'm not sure if I'm excited or should feel sad because I'm a guy," Muharemovic said of a world of .

Explore further: Japan firm showcases 'touchable' 3D technology

4.7 /5 (30 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

With human behind wheel, Google's self-driving car crashes

Aug 07, 2011

Google Inc.'s quest to popularize cars that drive themselves seemed to hit a roadblock Friday when news emerged that one of the automated vehicles was in an accident. But in an ironic twist, the company is saying that the ...

Google gets driverless car law passed in Nevada

Jun 24, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The savvy among you may remember that back in May we told you about Google's attempts to get the Nevada state legislature to consider allowing users to driver UGV, or unmanned ground vehic ...

BMW shows hands-free driving on Autobahn (w/ video)

Jan 24, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Move over, Google, or better still, stay off the Autobahn, best not to interfere with the main show, which now stars BMW and its technology feats with self-driving cars. BMW has been drawing ...

Recommended for you

Ride-sharing could cut cabs' road time by 30 percent

12 hours ago

Cellphone apps that find users car rides in real time are exploding in popularity: The car-service company Uber was recently valued at $18 billion, and even as it faces legal wrangles, a number of companies ...

Jumping into streaming TV

13 hours ago

More TV viewers are picking up so-called streaming media boxes in the hope of fulfilling a simple wish: Let me watch what I want when I want.

Job listing service ZipRecruiter raises $63 million

14 hours ago

ZipRecruiter, a California start-up that tries to simplify tasks for recruiters, has raised $63 million in initial venture capital funding as the 4-year-old service races to keep up with growing demand.

User comments : 26

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Scottingham
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2012
Once it becomes proven to be safe, self-driving cars would drastically reduce the number of deaths on our roads today. Traffic would flow better due to inter-car networking.

Response time to emergencies (ie hard breaking) could be achieved way faster than any human.

People always think of self-driving cars with the tech. I think it's the self-driving trucks and buses that are going to be more revolutionary/disruptive.
cyberCMDR
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 13, 2012
Once insurance companies figure out they are safer, they will offer discounts to people with self driving cars. Once people find out they will face more consequences for accidents if they are driving, they will allow the cars to drive themselves most of the time. It's about incentives and being a rational actor.
baudrunner
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2012
It's way more fun to fly a car than to have it drive you, though.
maxcypher
4.8 / 5 (4) Apr 13, 2012
There will be a synergistic effect when the majority of cars are driver-less. The automatic systems will work that much better as they are surrounded by other machines that make the same, predictable moves.
Deathclock
2.4 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2012
When everything is working fine I am sure the system works beautifully, but what about when you pop a tire at highway speeds, is there a sensor for that? What about when you get hit by another car and fishtail, can the system automatically counter-steer to prevent your vehicle from entering oncoming traffic (this actually happened to me, woman basically used the pit maneuver on me on the highway when she merged into my lane when i was right next to her, I corrected the slide by counter-steering and managed to stay mostly in my lane)

I'm half excited and half terrified for this new technology revolution, I feel bad for the beta testers, and anyone that ends up in their path when conditions are not optimal.
Deathclock
2.8 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2012
There will be a synergistic effect when the majority of cars are driver-less. The automatic systems will work that much better as they are surrounded by other machines that make the same, predictable moves.


This is true, but the environment is often very unpredictable. Flash floods, trees falling on the road, deer running out in front of you, mechanical failures causing the loss of control of other vehicles near you... anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
MorituriMax
4 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2012
So Skynet won't have to hunt you down, they'll just drive you, kicking and screaming to the internment camps.
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (6) Apr 13, 2012
In America, there has been a robust campaign by Conservative media outlets to slow the rate of adoption of electric cars by trashing their safety and reliability claims. Enough for GM to consider lawsuits against those outlets.

Once there are a few road deaths from cars that drive themselves, these same Conservatives will use them to slow to near zero the adoption of driverless cars.

Cave_Man
2.8 / 5 (5) Apr 14, 2012
I can't wait to drink a martini while going 75 mph down the freeway and have the onboard computer floor the brakes when a piece of cardboard blows onto the road.

Just don't eat with a fork and knife while your car drives you to work.
Bog_Mire
4 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2012
From what I see while driving where I live this would be a welcome improvement on current driving standards and road safety. Ultimately driver-less "public" shared drop and go electric-chargeable fleets will be attainable and our love affair with the car will disappear with time. But I fear that in the same way the conservative appeals to the gun owners they will also appeal to the car owners and use them as a power-wedge. Ergo zero progress.
_nigmatic10
5 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
To give you an idea of how fast, how many people you know have prius's or other hybrid cars? Most likely a few, but not everyone. This , after a decade on the market. So in 10 years, how many people you think you'll know with self driving cars? ...food for thought.
WorldJunkie
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2012
...sophisticated but expensive equipment...

LOL.
MorituriMax
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 14, 2012
I can't wait to drink a martini while going 75 mph down the freeway and have the onboard computer floor the brakes when a piece of cardboard blows onto the road.

Just don't eat with a fork and knife while your car drives you to work.
I think you're a few years behind what the newest software and hardware are capable of with driverless cars. Google has been driving them for several hundred thousand miles and the only accident they had was caused by someone else. Plus, people have a much poorer record of driving than the new autonomous cars. Have you SEEN some of the people driving on the road these days?
Jim_Morley
4.3 / 5 (3) Apr 14, 2012
The technology is there for many things, but cost is always a factor when bringing it to market. For this to work, there needs to be much more infrastructure such as interconnected sensors in the traffic lights, parking garages, etc. And this has to be become standard equipment on ALL vehicles, just like seat belts and antilock brakes.

As a previous poster wrote, hybrids have not taken over the market for the primary reason that they cost more, several thousands more. When the price difference for better tech on a $20k vehicle is only $1k or less, then the market will respond. Otherwise, it will remain a possible, but unattainable dream for most of the market.
Jimee
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 14, 2012
What a great way to take millions of jobs away from people, with absolutely no effort put into figuring out how they will avoid starvation. It will save some Billionaire lots of money so they can have another mansion. Regular people? Let them die quickly.
wealthychef
5 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
The technology is there for many things, but cost is always a factor when bringing it to market. For this to work, there needs to be much more infrastructure such as interconnected sensors in the traffic lights, parking garages, etc. And this has to be become standard equipment on ALL vehicles, just like seat belts and antilock brakes.

NO. This has to be done incrementally, not as a huge conquer-the-world program. In order for it to be done simultaneously, the government would have to do it by edict. How well do you think that will work? I think we have to just work the issues one by one, it will be ugly but it'll happen. Remember that computing power continues to increase, and technology in all spheres is increasing.
Deathclock
3.9 / 5 (8) Apr 14, 2012
What a great way to take millions of jobs away from people, with absolutely no effort put into figuring out how they will avoid starvation. It will save some Billionaire lots of money so they can have another mansion. Regular people? Let them die quickly.


What the hell are you talking about? Should we stifle innovation just because it will obsolete some jobs? Things change, deal with it.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (4) Apr 14, 2012
Obviously the answer is yes. If innovation come faster than society can adjust then society vanishes and mass death follows and innovation halts.

In order to manage innovation booms and recessions, and to provide maximum efficiency in the adoption of innovation, innovation must be managed.

"Should we stifle innovation just because it will obsolete some jobs?" - Deathclock
jimbo92107
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 15, 2012
I am interested to know how these companies solved the "red rubber ball" problem. That's the situation where you're driving through a residential neighborhood, when from between two parked cars you see a red rubber ball bouncing into the street. A human driver immediately slows down, because the next thing to emerge from between the two cars may be a little kid chasing the ball. How will the computer controlled car know the difference between a red rubber ball and a scrap of paper? It's a pretty important distinction.
MorituriMax
3.8 / 5 (4) Apr 15, 2012
I am interested to know how these companies solved the "red rubber ball" problem. That's the situation where you're driving through a residential neighborhood, when from between two parked cars you see a red rubber ball bouncing into the street. A human driver immediately slows down, because the next thing to emerge from between the two cars may be a little kid chasing the ball. How will the computer controlled car know the difference between a red rubber ball and a scrap of paper? It's a pretty important distinction.
Since the car is checking 100 times a second (or more) it isn't fixated on the ball, rather it's going to be checking for the ball AND the kid who comes running out on to the street.

Also, it is checking in a 360 degree circle all around the car all the time. Unlike the human who might not even see the red rubber ball.
Deathclock
2.4 / 5 (5) Apr 16, 2012
Obviously the answer is yes. If innovation come faster than society can adjust then society vanishes and mass death follows and innovation halts.

In order to manage innovation booms and recessions, and to provide maximum efficiency in the adoption of innovation, innovation must be managed.

"Should we stifle innovation just because it will obsolete some jobs?" - Deathclock


No, you're an idiot, this technology will foster more and higher quality jobs than the ones it obsoletes :rolleyes:
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2012
"this technology will foster more and higher quality jobs" - DeathClock

Modern technology has generally fostered fewer jobs, as automation has displaced workers.

What has created more jobs is the use of technology to purposely produce products that fail in order to assure a market for new products.

DaFranker
3 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2012
"this technology will foster more and higher quality jobs" - DeathClock

Modern technology has generally fostered fewer jobs, as automation has displaced workers.

What has created more jobs is the use of technology to purposely produce products that fail in order to assure a market for new products.


So from what you're saying, we should deliberately prevent the optimization and improvement of Society's global productivity in order to cater to the desire for abstract and obsolete means of acquiring food for the "workers" who will be "displaced" by this new improvement that makes Society more prosperous as a whole?

Yes, I'm sure the Romans of old would agree. /snarkasm
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2012
What a great way to take millions of jobs away from people, with absolutely no effort put into figuring out how they will avoid starvation. It will save some Billionaire lots of money so they can have another mansion. Regular people? Let them die quickly.
Indeed. This will only become more apparent when trucks begin making their own deliveries and construction machinery begins transporting itself to sites and digging ditches and erecting steel totally autonomously, according to GPS and 3D building models.

Are machine owners going to pay the tax revenues lost to these autonomous machines? Or is it time to consider paying these machines directly for the work they do, and billing them directly for maintenance, upkeep, storage, utility consumption, infrastructure wear, and tax?

How can we expect owners to pay for these things without trying to keep as much as they can? Pay machines directly. It is Inevitable, eventually, as AI proliferates. Why not now?
dschlink
5 / 5 (1) Apr 19, 2012
I see two major markets: rental cars and the aging. Is it any coincidence that the states that are looking a t legalizing this technology are: A. Major tourist destinations and B. Retirement magnets? Imagine renting a car on vacation and being able to spend most of your time seeing the sights, or knowing that great-grampa isn't running the car, but still has the ability to go where and when he wishes.
Jacob_Silver
5 / 5 (1) Apr 20, 2012
great now we can eliminate car insurance?