Thursday, January 12, 2017

Autonomous Vehicles Hot Topic Of 2017 NAIAS

Autonomous vehicles are the hot topic at the 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) taking place at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan.  The Detroit Auto Show started off with a press conference by Waymo, formerly known as the Google Self Driving Project, unveiling a self-driving version of this year's North American Utility Vehicle of the Year -- the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.  Waymo CEO John Krafcik discussed the self-driving technology that this new company spun off from Google has developed and how it has evolved from being utilized in small test cars to being ready for everyday use through a partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Pacifica minivans.

Krafcik noted the focus of Waymo is "not in the business of making better cars, but rather making better drivers."  He then announced self-driving Pacifica will be seen driving on public roads across Arizona and California by the end of January.  It appears that autonomous vehicles won't be something to be imagined in science fiction anymore but rather technology that is going to start being applied in the real world very soon! The presentation ended with a video providing an overview of how Waymo's technology works and showing how it would benefit people with disabilities who aren't able to drive on their own.

Hyundai has its IONIQ Autonomous car on display at its NAIAS display.  It is equipped with a hidden LiDAR system that allows the self-driving car to detect the position of surrounding vehicles and objects.  The Ioniq's LiDAR system is a key attribute to allowing the vehicle to navigate roadways autonomously.  LIDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges.

The LiDAR system works in conjunction with several other features to allow the Ioniq to have self-driving capabilities.  Forward Facing Radar allows the Ioniq to detect objects in the vehicle's path to aid in route planning.  Three cameras work together to detect pedestrians, lane markers and traffic signals.  A GPS antenna ensures the vehicle knows its precise location.  Plus a Blind Spot Detection radar assists with lane changes and parking.  All these systems work in conjunction to provide the Ioniq's occupants with a safe driving experience that is completely automated.

Volkswagen also introduced the I.D. BUZZ, the world's first zero-emission, electric van to feature fully autonomous driving.  Simply press the Volkswagen logo on the van's steering wheel and watch it seamlessly merge into the dashboard.  Drivers can relax as other vehicles on the road and the I.D. BUZZ'S surroundings are precisely monitored by four laser scanners on the roof, ultrasonic sensors, radar, plus side area view and frontal cameras.  The van also acquires real-time traffic data via the cloud to supplement its in-vehicle capabilities. 

While I'm not sure how trusting I am just yet of any of this technology during a busy rush hour commute, we've taken a few long road trip vacations driving from Michigan to Florida and back where our family would have appreciated being able to relax within a self-driving vehicle.  So I'll absolutely continue to be tracking how this technology evolves over the next few years.  It appears from what I saw at the Detroit Auto Show that autonomous vehicles may be a common sight on our roadways sooner then many of us may be expecting.  So what do you think of riding in a self-driving car?

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