The battle has started for self driving car
Among the biggest winners for now are the companies that produce electronic sensors, cameras and software that make self driving car features possible.
The growing list includes the high-tech units of traditional automotive suppliers such as Germany’s Continental AG, Israel’s Mobileye Vision Technologies, and consumer-technology giants Google, Apple, Samsung Electronics Co, Sony Corp and more.
At Silicon Valley’s Nvidia Corp, for example, video games remain the biggest market, but automotive revenue is the fastest-growing segment.
“We’re in well over 8 million cars on the road today and will be in more than 30 million in the next three to four years,” says Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia’s president and CEO. “Future cars will sense and understand the world moving around them.”
“DOING CRAZY THINGS”
A big step in that direction was the traffic-jam assistance feature on the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Now available on more Mercedes models, the Intelligent Drive system allows the car to drive itself at low speeds in traffic jams, freeing the driver from constant braking.
BMW, Honda Motor Co, Hyundai Motor Co and others have or will soon introduce similar features.
Silicon Valley’s Tesla Motors recently broke new ground by downloading “autopilot” features to its newer models, just as software updates are downloaded to smartphones and tablets. Autopilot basically drives the car itself, but Tesla warns drivers not to relinquish control entirely.
On a recent investor call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he had seen some “fairly crazy videos on YouTube” of Tesla owners driving hands-free with autopilot, and added: “This is not good. We will be putting some additional constraints on when autopilot can be activated, to minimize the possibility of people doing crazy things with it.”
BELLS AND WHISTLES
For consumers, getting their first car with semi-automated features can be both exciting and daunting, especially those who haven’t bought a new car in years.
“I had no idea this sort of thing was out there,” says Mark Goldsmith, a Tokyo-area TV news writer. “I’d been driving a 15-year-old Jeep, which only had cruise control that you constantly had to adjust, so all these new features are a novelty.”
Goldsmith recently traded the Jeep for a 2015 Volvo [GEELY.UL] with a mouthful of a name – the V40 T5 R-design – and a handful of semi-automated driving features.
Those include adaptive cruise control, distance warning, blind-spot information system, “city safety,” driver alert system, lane-keeping aid, road-sign information, anti-skid system and parking assist. Combined they add close to $1,000 to the car’s total price of nearly $31,000.
While Goldsmith says he has yet to test all the automated features, he says the suite of functions was “definitely” a factor that helped sell he and his wife on the car.
But to other drivers, like Kirstin Houser, a communications and events manager in Frankfurt, mastering how to use all the buttons, switches and toggles to activate the automated drive functions on her family car, a 2015 Mercedes E-Klasse Kombi, was a time-consuming process which required “relearn(ing) how to drive”.
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