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Scrutinising the hype: The real deal behind self-driving cars

Posted: 02 Nov 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IHS  autonomous car  ADAS  self-driving  Tesla 

While it cannot be denied that one of the hottest topics now in technology is autonomous driving, speculations, expectations and rumours have unfortunately derailed us from what is actually taking place. Perhaps, this is the perfect time to set things straight and pinpoint exactly where we are in this quest to create the ultimate self-driving car.

For example, Jeffrey Miller, IEEE member and associate professor of engineering practice at the University of Southern California, said: "I think that we are absolutely going to be seeing driverless vehicles on the road in the near future, possibly in as little as five years."

But look closer. Miller isn't talking about completely autonomous vehicles. He's referring to "an autonomous car" in which the driver might have to grab the wheel at some point during the ride.

To "get rid of the driver" completely out of the driving equation "may take 10 to 20 years," Miller parenthesised.

But, even without total control, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) have come a long way.

ADAS features ranging from adaptive cruise control and automatic braking to blind spot detection, collision avoidance and lane departure warnings are moving from luxury to mid-range cars. You could even say, "Look, these cars with ADAS features are practically doing the driving for us."

Different levels of autonomous cars

How National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and SAE International define different levels of autonomous cars.

EE Times recently invited a panel of experts in the automotive field to its radio show. The guests were: Douglas Patton, EVP, CTO at Denso International America Inc.; Adrian Koh, director, business development at NXP Semiconductors USA Inc.; Mark C. Boyadjis, senior analyst & manager at IHS Automotive; and Sarah Palodichuk, researcher, J.D. at the University of Minnesota, focuses on privacy and criminal liability issues within the field of transportation.

We asked them to zero in on missing links to a smooth transition to the fully autonomous car, one that allows the driver to nap in the back seat.

During the show, Mark Boyadjis, IHS Automotive's senior analyst, explained that additional ADAS features are incremental steps, while going from Level 3 to Level 4 is "a leap." Level 3 is defined by NHTSA as "Limited self-driving automation," with the vehicle in control most of the time. Level 4 is "full self-driving automation" in which the driver isn't the driver.

Denso's CTO Doug Patton agreed. "Even within Level 3, there are a bunch of steps we still have to take," he said. "This won't be the giant step Google would like us to believe," he added.

The definition of an "autonomous car" comes in many variations and shades of grey. Advocates tend to pick and choose among these to make us believe what they want us to believe.

In the following pages, we offer 12 self-driven steps you can take to recover the never-ending story of The Little Engine That Could (All By Itself).

1. Stop being so gullible

Tesla's latest update to its electric car software has allowed, for the first time, its Model S sedans access to such self-driving features as unlocking Autosteer, Auto Lane Change and Autopark for use on U.S. roads.

It's pretty remarkable how Tesla has made all these ADAS features possible, simply flicking the software-upgrade switch.

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