Self-Driving cars: The machines are taking over

Self-driving cars, or ‘driver assisted vehicles’ as some companies choose to call them, are the next wave of automobile technology and safety. Tesla, electric car manufacturer and developer of their proprietary “autopilot” driver assistance program has been cleared of any wrongdoing in a case involving the program. Last year, a Tesla Model S crashed into the side of a transport truck in Florida while Autopilot was engaged, killing the driver, Joshua Brown from Canton, Ohio. Now that Tesla has been cleared, the automaker can continue developing and selling their vehicles, which were at risk of being shelved if it turned out Autopilot itself was flawed. This past weekend, Tesla released a new upgraded version of the software to newer models of its vehicles. But Tesla is not the only company making self-driving cars. 2017 may see a new wave of the computer assisted vehicles hitting city streets from variety of manufacturers — including some of the major players in the regular automotive industry.

A major reason for the development is driver safety. NuTonomy, mentioned below, points out that in 2015, more than 35,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., and it is estimated that driver error is the cause for about 94 per cent of them. Here is a roundup of self-driving cars currently on the market or
in development.

 

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Waymo

Waymo is the name of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google’s self-driving car company. Their goal is to “make our roads safer and increase mobility for the millions of people who cannot drive.” says the tech company of their website. “Our ultimate goal is to help millions of people get safely from door to door at the push of a button.” Waymo completed what they call the world’s first completely self-driven ride in October 2015.

“Our vehicle did not have a steering wheel, foot pedal or test driver on board as it drove from a doctor’s office to a park and through typical Austin neighborhoods in everyday traffic,” says Waymo. They have since gone on to automate a Chrysler Pacifica Minivan.

 

 

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Honda

While not fully automated like Waymo’s prototypes, the latest model of the Honda Civic LX comes with available advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS. The Wall Street Journal reported that the new model can drive itself for 25 miles without the driver touching the pedals or the steering wheel. However, that does depend on the visibility of lane lines on the road and the presence of other vehicles. A factor that might help Honda on the market, their vehicles typically retail for about $20,000, far less than many others on this list. Fewer features but for a considerably smaller price tag may help the Japanese automaker make headway in the self-driving car market.

Honda is also in talks with Alphabet Inc. about their Waymo technology, says the Guardian, though that does not mean that they will abandon their proprietary technology.

 

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BMW

BMW’s fully automated vehicle, a Series 5 prototype, is all about luxury and convenience. Testers at the Consumer electronics show tested out the car, ordering things online, picking up extra passengers, and generally ignoring the normal things one would worry about while driving. Basically, automation technology like this allows the driver to do everything everyone is already doing. Instead of texting and driving though, you’re texting and the car is driving itself.

CNBC drivers said that they had difficulty keeping their hands away from the wheel, which might impact the way the car drives. They’re still working on how the car will interact with other vehicles driven by actual humans, said CNBC.
BMW expects that their fully automated car will be on the road and driving around passengers doing whatever they feel like doing by 2021.

 

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General Motors

GM is currently trying out self-driving tech on 30 test cars on the road in California. On January 19, Cruise Automation, a tech company acquired by GM in 2016 for over $1 Billion, posted a video of its autonomous Chevy Bolt EV driving itself around in San Francisco. The car drove around the city, turning corners, stopping at lights, dodging pedestrians, and hesitating when a truck, which was pulled over, was stopped part of the way into the Cruise Automation car’s lane.

GM’s Cruise Automation had a vehicle involved in a crash in 2016, reports online magazine Inverse.com. The incident was the first crash involving an automated vehicle in California. Despite the setback, Cruise Automation, with backing from GM, may be able to get fully automated on the market. Inverse reports that GM is planning on releasing self-driving features on upcoming cars, including a ‘Super Cruise’ mode which will allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel and will include speed controls, automatic braking, and lane following.

 

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nuTonomy

The first self-driving car tests in Boston got started early this year, as automaker nuTonomy put their cars on city streets. Earlier in 2016, nuTonomy, a startup originally formed at MIT, began a public test of their self-driving cars at a facility in Singapore, which the company said is the first of its kind. The company says all these tests are being made to “enable nuTonomy to refine its software in preparation for the launch of a widely-available commercial robo-taxi service in Singapore in 2018.” That seems to be the goal of many self-driving vehicle manufacturers. nuTonomy has begun testing its Renault Zoe electric vehicle in the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park in the Seaport section of Boston.

CEO and co-founder of nuTonomy, Karl Iagnemma, said, “These tests in the City of Boston will enable our engineers to adapt our autonomous vehicle software to the weather and traffic challenges of this unique driving environment. Testing our self-driving cars so near to nuTonomy’s home is the next step towards our ultimate goal: deployment of a safe, efficient, fully autonomous mobility-on-demand transportation service.”

 

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