Over the last several weeks, I have spent a lot of time with cars designed to drive themselves. This has included Nissan/Infiniti’s Propilot Assist, Tesla’s Autopilot, Byton’s EV prototype (with front seats that rotate backward) and even taken a ride in Lyft’s autonomous rideshare service at CES. The technology is advancing rapidly but is the future of driving going to be fully-autonomous?
If you are like me, you like driving. I enjoy the rush of accelerating in a sports car as much as any guy. I like the freedom that comes with being able to go anywhere at any time. I like being in control of what happens when I am behind the wheel. I love to drive!
I also love tech. I have always been an early adopter. I frequently preorder the latest gadget. I am usually the first person to beta test software and realize its strengths and weaknesses. I bought one of the first electric cars over 7 years ago and I use my adaptive cruise control almost daily in my current EV.
Does that make me the perfect candidate for a self-driving car?
I honestly don’t know.
There is no denying that technology and cars are combining in a way they never have before. They have become computers on wheels. This gives them more capabilities than they have ever had before. They will continue to be able to take more and more control
The question really boils down to how much will we trust the car and the tech? I think that is precisely why all of the cars that I have driven have taken somewhat different approaches to their implementation of self-driving tech.
I think that is precisely why every car company is taking their own approach towards autonomy. Some are taking a more cautious while others claim the future is almost here.
When most people think of self-driving cars, they think of Tesla’s Autopilot system and videos of people doing nothing behind the wheel. Their tech is not yet supposed to be used this way yet but people expect it to be this way. Tesla buyers seem to be overly trusting of the tech.
Tesla wants to be the face of autonomous driving and states all over the news that they are pushing for full Level 5 self-driving (which means that the car can do anything that a human can do). They claim that a system when the car can take full control will be available in the not so distant future.
Tesla claims they can achieve this with their current camera and radar hardware they are shipping on their cars
Andy Christensen, Sr. Manager at Nissan/Infiniti told me that Nissan is taking a bit of a different approach. Nissan wants to assist drivers and make their driving experiences better.
It feels like they are wanting to build that trust in the tech over time. They are in no hurry to take full control from drivers.
Andy told me that things like driving in snow will require driver intervention for quite a while.
Nissan current ProPILOT Assist is a Level 2 system that uses cameras and radar to keep you in your lane (through minor steering adjustments) and keep your distance from other vehicles. Honestly, it has done a great job of doing this Infiniti QX50 and the Nissan LEAF vehicle. It while being so mild that you barely know it is there.
ProPILOT Assist uses radar and cameras but Andy feels that a lot more hardware will be required for full Level 5 autonomy. Nissan used a lot of sensors to achieve the test run in the video below.
Byton is a Chinese company that came out of nowhere to show off their electric vehicle prototype at CES in Jan 2018. The vehicle is still a way from production but they claim that it will come with seats that are designed to rotate rearward when autonomous driving is engaged enabling the driver to interact with passengers creating the road trip of the future.
Finally, Lyft was driving passengers between the Las Vegas Convention Center and several of the casinos on the strip without driver interaction. You simply called for a ride through Lyft’s app and then the car showed up and took you to your destination. Under current self-driving laws, a driver still had to be sitting in the driver’s seat but didn’t have to drive the vehicle.
It was a very impressive demonstration that showed how easy it will someday be to simply request a car and get to your destination even without a driver.
Valeo and Navya are planning to implement self-driving taxis in Asian markets.
As the tech gets better, cars will be able to do more of the driving. The question becomes would you trust your life to the tech? Will you let it drive you by it drive you completely by itself?
For now, I’m just going to have to wait and see.