Is a future with Autonomous Vehicles just around the corner?

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For most the idea of a driverless vehicle or self driving car is a concept better left on the big screen. However what many people don’t know is that engineers, researchers, and automotive companies have been working toward making autonomous vehicles a reality for decades. In fact, 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the first long-duration field test of a self-driving car. The last two decades have seen a drastic change in the technology landscape and you might be surprised to know that autonomous technology is being used by many tech savvy car companies today. For example, cars that feature “park assist,” “rear cross traffic alerts,” or “adaptive cruise control”  are all examples of autonomous technology. 

The Society of Automotive Engineers ranks automation of on-road vehicles on 6 levels:

  • 0 – No Automation
  • 1 – Driver Assistance
  • 2 – Partial Automation
  • 3 – Conditional Automation
  • 4 – High Automation
  • 5 – Full Automation

Cars that feature park assist and adaptive cruise control would fall under levels 2 and 3 of the SAE’s automation guide. But what about level 4 or even level 5? Autonomous vehicles that can achieve Level 4 would be able to perform task such as highway passing, stopping at traffic lights, navigating a traffic jam, responding to events, and determining when to change lanes. These task are accomplished through a variety of techniques including radar, lidar, GPS, odometry, as well as cameras and sensors attached to the vehicle itself. These technologies all work together to give the vehicles a “feel” for their surroundings.

Kia Motors introduces new ‘DRIVE WISE’ sub-brand for autonomous driving technologies
Kia Motors introduces new ‘DRIVE WISE’ sub-brand for autonomous driving technologies

Currently there are not any vehicles available on the market boasting level 4 or 5 capabilities but the technology is out there and some car manufacturers have begun investing heavily in the technology. At CES 2016, Kia announced the creation of it’s new DRIVE WISE technologies, an umbrella for its autonomous driving technologies including:

  • Highway Autonomous Driving (HAD) employs a combination of radar and camera detection systems to interpret lane markings, allowing the car to stay in its lane or switch into others to overtake other vehicles or follow a different road; all without driver input.
  • Urban Autonomous Driving (UAD) applies GPS and sensors to identify the car’s position on the road, allowing it to safely navigate through densely-congested city environments while responding to live traffic updates.
  • Preceding Vehicle Following (PVF) is an enhanced lane-keeping system which monitors the vehicle in front and allows the car to calculate its own path relative to it, following at a safe distance if road markings are indecipherable due to poor conditions or road layout.
  • Emergency Stop System (ESS) operates in correlation with Kia’s Driver Status Monitoring (DSM) system, to analyse the driver’s face, ensuring their attention does not stray from the road for too long. If it detects that the driver takes their eyes from the road for too long, ESS can automatically direct the car into an appropriate side lane and come to a halt.
  • Traffic Jam Assist (TJA) monitors the vehicle in front during congested traffic conditions, maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front and moving into appropriate spaces to gain ground.
  • Autonomous Valet Parking allows drivers to exit the car and let the vehicle park itself remotely, activated using the smart key or a smartwatch.

Furthermore, the company announced plans to bring fully autonomous cars to the market within the next 15 years, like this self driving Kia Soul.

In the meantime, there are still many questions left unanswered. For starters, how will these technologies work around hazards such as the ever shifting road construction environment? What about hazards such as snow and ice both on the road and built up on sensors? What will the legal environment surrounding autonomous vehicles look like? It will be interesting to see what the next 15 years bring and whether the landscape and the legal-scape will be ready for autonomous cars should they make it to the market. 

25 thoughts on “Is a future with Autonomous Vehicles just around the corner?”

  1. I can trust the autopilot on a plane because I know the airtraffic is a little more predictable than street traffic, but if our traffic is compose of a mix of automated cars and human drivers, I think that could lead to problems. If EVERY car was automated, the system would probably work pretty smoothly, but when you throw humans into the mix, things get muddled, no matter how good the technology is. This is why most plane crashes happen when the plane is out of autopilot, not when it’s cruising. I trust our technological capabilities to prepare a machine for a variety of situations, but it’s tough to prepare it to interact with and respond to humans and our errors.

  2. This sounds like such a cool idea. It’s amazing how far technology has come in the past few decades. In another 20 years, who know how autonomous cars will be?!

  3. I am still in awe that they were able to come up with this technology! It can be scary but is kinda neat at the same time.

  4. I’m terrified of self-driving vehicles… so scary! I feel like there are things about driving that do require subjectivity and finesse and it’s hard to imagine a machine being able to handle those things.

  5. Wow, autonomous cars in 15 years? I’m not sure how I feel about that. I know they’ve had great success with the test vehicles on the road already, but I’m still apprehensive. I guess it’s the natural progression of technology though, and if it can make driving safer, that’s a great thing!


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