Cars that know how to drive without you: join the Networked Vehicle conversation today
September 6, 2013

CARS THAT KNOW HOW, TO DRIVE (WITHOUT YOU) from the desk of CATA's Barry Gander, interviewed by CAA Magazine for their fall edition

For decades, trendspotters and researchers looked into the future of driving and saw flying cars. But what's more likely is not cars that fly but cars that drive themselves, or autonomous vehicles. So far, the most well-known developer of the autonomous car is Google.

Barry Gander, the executive vice-president of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) says self-driving vehicles could reshape the way we think about driving and personal transportation. 

"It will mean that the blind will be able to drive, that cars need not be 'owned' but merely 'summoned', when needed and that vehicle-related deaths and injuries will plummet," he says.

Not unlike self-parking cars, autonomous vehicles use a combination of radar, lidar (laser radar),GPS and computer vision, which electronically, duplicates human vision so the vehicle can receive, examine and understand the real-life images around it. "It drives, brakes, sees the lanes," explains Gander, adding that one big drawback is that if lanes or road lines are obscured by snow,for example, the car can't find its way. Still, he expects that problem to be remedied as technology improves, "A lot of people don't realize how close this is."

Until that time comes, Ford and GM are among two automakers on the cusp of releasing technology that is no doubt a precursor to autonomous vehicles, Named Traffic Jam Assist and Super Cruise, respectively, the features combine myriad technologies such as adaptive cruise control and lane centring that allow vehicles to accelerate, brake and remain centred in the lane without driver input in heavy traffic situations.

Both automakers are still testing these systems and haven't announced which models will boast these features. However, many of their individual components can be found on several models, including GM's 2013 Cadillac XTS and ATS and on Ford's 2013 Focus, Escape and Fusion.

Audi is adding another dimension to self-driving cars with its Piloted Parking technology. Piloted Parking would allow you to pull up to the entrance of the mall, get out of the car, tap a button on your smartphone and walk away as the vehicle drives off to park itself, Hit the button again and it will come  pick you up. The system relies on 12 ultrasound sensors to navigate safely but also needs to rely on sensors in nearby structures such as those within the parking garage.

CARS THAT ACT LIKE TRAINS

Traffic jams can inspire road rage in even the calmest driver. But imagine if, through the wonders of vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity, your car could form a train with other cars and they could power themselves quickly and safely to a specific destination. That's the theory behind road trains, currently being researched in Europe.

Road trains act similarly to rail trains. One vehicle leads the train, and each car following after is connected to it and to the vehicles in front of it, wirelessly. They travel along the same road at the same speed, behaving like a train. Drivers can act like passengers and catch up on work or email, chat on the phone or do anything else they might do on a traditional train.

"If vehicles are linked by a wireless connection, each will know what the vehicle ahead of it is doing," says CATA's Gander. "[The train] may only travel at 100 km/h, but if you do that throughout the day, you can cover a lot more ground." While road trains raise many questions and have far-reaching implications for both auto insurance and infrastructure, they could certainly improve traffic and reduce pollution-and maybe help restore order on congested highways. CAA 

DRIVING AWAY D I STRACTI 0 N

It's easy to get excited as we peek into the future. With the influx of more technology, there's the concern of how it could potentially distract drivers.

Transport Canada has an ongoing driver distraction research program to understand this impact. In general, it encourages automakers to design devices that are compatible with safe driving, keeping in mind that its research shows the risk of a collision increases when drivers take their eyes off of the road.

Mikael Ljung Aust, a driver behaviour specialist with Volvo, is optimistic that driver distraction will be minimal in the future. "The number of crashes are going down pretty much everywhere in the western world," he says. 

"Drivers seem fairly capable of self-regulating their use of personal technology."

Aust does agree with Transport Canada that any technology that takes your eyes off the road is extremely dangerous and could lead to a potential collision.

However, not all technological distractions are negative.

"All of our warning systems are meant to bring a distracted driver's eyes back on the road when need be," says Aust. "Good collision-warning systems can likely offset the potential negative effects of  increased personal technology use in the car."

Mike Shulman, the technical leader at Ford, agrees. He says the Wi-Fi system that Ford and others are working on is meant to refocus drivers through beeps and tones. "They need to look up and pay attention. We're not creating a way for them to text and leave the car to do all the work. This is simply a backup to help during critical moments."
- Travis Persaud 

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