Revolution in the Driver’s Seat: The Road to Autonomous Vehicles

Revolution in the Driver’s Seat: The Road to Autonomous Vehicles

          
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Revolution in the Driver’s Seat: The Road to Autonomous Vehicles

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  • Autonomy Comes in Several Flavors

    The term “autonomous vehicle” describes not a single vehicle with a fixed set of capabilities but a range of possible vehicles with disparate capabilities. Today’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) foreshadow the more robust autonomous technology now under development. ADAS features include the following:

    • Adaptive cruise control, introduced in 2006, monitors the speed of the vehicle directly ahead of it and maintains a safe distance.
    • Parallel-park assist, also introduced in 2006, uses cameras and ultrasound sensors to guide the vehicle into a parking space.
    • Automatic emergency braking, first available in 2008, activates itself when the vehicle risks colliding with another vehicle, a person, an animal, or an object.
    • Lane-keeping technology, introduced in 2014, warns the driver when the vehicle risks drifting out of its lane and, in some versions, prevents the vehicle from doing so.
    From Partial to Full Autonomy

    As soon as late 2015 or early 2016, the first wave of more advanced, partially autonomous features, such as the following, will come on the market:

    • Single-lane highway autopilot enables a vehicle to drive in a single lane on a high-speed roadway without driver input.
    • Highway autopilot with lane changing enables a vehicle to drive autonomously on highways and change lanes on its own.
    • Traffic jam autopilot takes control of vehicle functions in low-speed, stop-and-go traffic conditions.
    • Autonomous valet parking enables a vehicle to identify an open parking spot, park itself, and then retrieve itself when summoned.
    • Urban autopilot allows the vehicle to drive itself in virtually all urban environments at low speeds and respond appropriately to traffic jams, traffic signals, and intersections.

    A fully autonomous vehicle, of course, can drive itself under virtually all conditions without driver intervention, although limitations—most notably, severe weather—are still to be defined, along with protocols for dealing with such situations.

    The Timetable for Rollouts

    OEMs will roll out vehicles containing one or more advanced autonomous features in stages as the underlying technology reaches commercial grade and its price falls. Precise dates of introduction depend on validation of the technology by OEMs, regulation in each country, and the tests that will be required by safety administrations. Still, we can offer general guidelines based on the likely readiness of the technology and announcements by OEMs.

    The first autonomous feature to become available will probably be the single-lane highway autopilot, with Tesla’s planned introduction in mid-2015, followed by GM’s version of the feature, called Super Cruise, which will appear in 2016 on an all-new Cadillac vehicle. By 2017, AVs capable of traffic jam autopilot and autonomous valet parking should be on dealers’ lots, followed by highway autopilot with lane changing in 2018. Vehicles capable of urban autopilot could be ready in 2022, paving the way for fully autonomous vehicles by 2025—the year when Mercedes, for one, will roll out its first fully autonomous model, according to a recent announcement by the OEM. OEMs or new entrants, such as the DriveMe project in Sweden, will likely introduce some or all of these features earlier, on a test basis.

    Before then, every player in road transportation will need to ensure that demand is adequate to reach commercial scale, vehicles are secure from cyberattack, regulation is ready for self-steering vehicles, uncertainty over liability is resolved, societal resistance is overcome, and certain critical technologies, such as high-precision maps, are commercially developed.