2016 SAE Congress: Fear of the driverless car as 2020 approaches

  • 18-Apr-2016 03:26 EDT
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With an average of 26 "smart" devices for every human by 2020, connectivity will be across all aspects of life, and through all the IoT systems depicted, vehicles will be a major element.

What will connectivity and mobility be like in the 2020s? Although the start of the decade is less than four years away, an expert panel at the 2016 SAE World Congress cited research that sees 200 billion devices online and connected—26 "smart" objects per human—that will constitute the Internet of Things (IoT) and form a key element of new mobility platforms.

The connections will be omnipresent and although the focus may be on the automobile, home, computer, work and health-related connections also will be made. And the motorist will have IoT-enabled access to whatever data is available, anywhere.

Efforts by Google and others to develop self-driving vehicles aside, the major OEMs are taking evolutionary steps to more full-function versions. The present level of technology is three-quarters of the way to a self-driving car, claimed panelist David Strickland, former NHTSA administrator who is a member of law firm Venable LLP specializing in the regulatory area.

Fear of the driverless car

Strickland pointed to the privacy issues that are arising as the evolution continues. But he expressed confidence that motorists will see sufficient incentives to give up privacy "to avoid the car becoming a [technologically obsolete] brick."

John Capp, GM's Director of Global Safety Strategy, pointed to the forthcoming installations of a V2V module on the 2017 Cadillac CT6 and "Super Cruise" on an unnamed other Cadillac model. Super Cruise is GM's fusion of radar, ultrasonic sensors, cameras and GPS. It represents more active control, derived from the Driver Assist package (adaptive cruise with automatic braking) introduced in 2013, but the performance specifications are yet to be revealed.

Although GM has mentioned limitations for poor weather, illegible lane markings and unusual traffic issues, it has not defined the conditions under which, and how, motorists would be expected to assume full control.

Cadillac will join the Volvo S90, with its latest version of Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous system with advanced camera detection of pedestrians, cyclists and animals, that controls steering to keep the car in lane even without a vehicle ahead to track. It operates up to 80 mph/130 km/h.

Alphabet/Google's Ron Medford, director of safety for the company's self-driving car project, pointed to an AAA study that showed considerable fear of driverless cars. And GM's Capp noted that although "enjoying hands free" is for many drivers, it isn't for all, and the industry will have to design cars so they can be used the way the motorist wants, when he wants it.

"There'll be guys driving around with old cars" on the same roads as autonomous vehicles, Capp said, "and we'll just have to deal with that."

Aftermarket DSRC coming?

One possibility is that the aftermarket at least could contribute to an autonomous-driving world with cars retrofitted to produce traffic information, if not capable of more complete participation. Many premium aftermarket radios are equipped with DSRC capability (digital short range communication, the 5.9 GHz band set aside for traffic function, and presently used only for automated toll collection). If enabled, they could communicate with a traffic monitoring infrastructure.

Ned Curic, Toyota Motor Sales USA's chief technology officer, said that although the motorist's level of connectivity will be pervasive and ride-sharing systems like Lyft are taking hold, "millennials are very different." They do want to own cars, he said, and they want to drive more technologically advanced models, so their level of participation in autonomous drive may be limited.

The automotive aftermarket's role in the picture beyond DSRC also is uncertain. Companies like Cruise Automation, a startup in the process of being acquired by GM, began with the idea of converting Audi models to autonomous drive with installation of a kit. That idea is being supplanted with one to perfect self-driving technology for a broad range of vehicles.

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