- Driverless vehicle technology is being introduced gradually, according to manufacturers, suppliers, researchers and the government.
- The experts presented their opinions at a conference this week sponsored by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
- As manufacturers continue to test autonomous vehicles, the technology is being integrated into production vehicles one system at a time.
ANN ARBOR, Michigan — Although autonomous vehicles, in one form or another, are likely on the horizon, don't expect a completely self-driving car to pull into your driveway any time soon.
That's the word from automakers and other experts at a conference this week sponsored by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Presenters at the conference included representatives from manufacturers, Tier 1 suppliers, research facilities and the government. The consensus is that most companies will continue to take a measured approach to vehicle autonomy, rolling out new systems gradually after extensive development and testing.
This seems to contradict some of the publicity generated by a number of optimistic sources, like Google, which has suggested that its driverless cars and other autonomous vehicles may be only several years from production.
While it's true that many automakers have self-driving cars under development, for most manufacturers these platforms are being used primarily as test beds for individual systems that they intend to introduce gradually on production vehicles.
According to Dr. Amine Taleb, project manager of Advanced Driving Assistance Systems at auto supplier Valeo, self-driving cars were first envisioned decades ago. Since then we've progressed from the basics, such as cruise control, to the latest suite of active safety systems, like brake assist and traction control. Currently undergoing testing by Valeo is Park4U, which sends a car out to park itself under the control of a smartphone app.
John Capp, director of Electrical & Control Systems Research for GM, sees a similar progression of technological development. He notes that driver alerts, triggered by forward- and side-facing sensors, preceded the latest devices that provide active emergency intervention.
Next in line is on-demand intervention for specific activities, like automated parking, followed by complete on-demand vehicle autonomy, still well into the future. GM is currently testing Cadillac's Super Cruise, which is capable of hands-off lane following, braking and speed control under certain conditions. If all goes well, that system may be in production by 2020.
Both Volkswagen and Audi have autonomous cars in development, but Prasanth Jeevan, senior research engineer at the VW/Audi Electronics Research Lab is another industry expert who notes that the technology will arrive in stages. His company's work on driverless vehicles has led to innovation that is gradually finding its way into production cars, but Jeevan says that further progress will require overcoming a number of challenges.
Those challenges — including technical, financial and legal issues, as well as consumer skepticism — while considerable, are not insurmountable, and they are being addressed. In other words, car shoppers should expect to see this technology roll out one step at a time.
Edmunds says: Most consumers are probably more comfortable with this gradual introduction of automated systems anyway.