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Paving the Way for Autonomous Vehicles

The top 7 technologies that will help drivers embrace the idea of letting their cars chauffeur them.

By Claire_Martin Apr 10, 2012 12:53PM
Audi A6 Photo by Audi.Even though the technology for autonomous (i.e., self-driving) vehicles is ready to go, car owners aren't yet prepared to cede total control, according to Ford engineers. “There is no technology barrier from going where we are now to the autonomous car,” Jim McBride, a Ford autonomous-vehicle expert, told the tech blog GigaOM. “There are affordability issues, but the big barrier to overcome is customer acceptance.”

The Full Monty in terms of autonomous technology includes super-high-tech things like scanning lasers that model the car's surroundings in 3-D and vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems that allow cars to broadcast their speed and location to each other. But to ease drivers into the idea of letting go of the wheel, automakers are introducing components of the autonomous technology into present-day cars and those coming soon. "It’s going to take a decade before the masses fully accept the autonomous car, but they’ll get there," said Mike Kane, Ford's engineering supervisor for driver-assistance technologies. Here's what's available now and coming down the pike soon:

1. Automatic parallel parking: Ford, Lexus, Toyota, Audi and Lincoln have self-parking vehicles in their fleets. Ford and Lincoln use the Active Park Assist program, Toyota dubs its system Intelligent Park Assist, and Lexus calls its technology the Advanced Parking Guidance Program. They all work in essentially the same way. Sensors on the side of the car scan for available parking spots and alert the driver once they've located one. Then you put the car in reverse and let go of the wheel. The car begins to back itself into the spot. You operate the gas and brakes; the car does the rest.

2. Adaptive cruise control: Radar sensors detect vehicles ahead of you. Your car autonomously slows to a stop in traffic and automatically resumes driving when the car ahead of it moves forward. Audi, JaguarMercedes-Benz and Ford use the technology. 

3. Maximum speed-limit display: Audi uses a windshield-mounted camera to detect regular and digital speed-limit signs posted on the side of the road. That information is combined and compared with data stored in the navigation system and information on maximum allowable speeds for the country you're driving in. The result is displayed for the driver.
4. Lane-change assistance: Radar sensors on the back of the vehicle detect activity within 230 feet, and if another vehicle is in your blind spot, a light flashes on your side mirror. BMW and Volvo use the technology. Audi uses a system that allows you to set your steering wheel to vibrate if you stray.

5. Lane-departure warning systems: Some BMW, Volvo and General Motors cars monitor lane markings and issue an audio-visual alarm when drivers begin to cross into another lane without signaling. This and most other autonomous perks are reserved for luxury models, but Ford has taken the unusual step of installing this type of system in one of its lower-priced cars, the Fusion.

6. Traffic-jam assistance: This is similar to the adaptive cruise control but incorporates lateral guidance to detect cars moving into or out of your lane. It can also monitor cars several vehicles ahead, allowing your car to function as part of a caravan. If emergency vehicles appear, your car follows the movements of the vehicle ahead of it. Mercedes and Audi have announced plans to launch this technology soon.

7. Accident avoidance: Audi is developing technology that will sense an imminent collision with moving or fixed objects and pulse the brakes to warn the driver. 
Apr 14, 2012 11:17PM
We've had "driverless" cars for some time now.  Seems most people are doing everything but driving these days. 
Apr 10, 2012 1:11PM
I for one, can't wait for fully automated cars, No more jerks tail gating, no more retards that don't know how to use cruise control so are constantly speeding up and slowing down causing you to turn yours off, no more ignorant people pulling in to your lane way too close to your car after passing you, no more "no turn on red" people because they are scared, no more lazy, inconsiderate people not using their turn signals. Traveling can become a relaxing thing once again without having to worry about the careless and selfish drivers around you, just hop into your pod and get going.

Apr 15, 2012 10:52AM
What happens if your cars software gets hacked,do you sit there helpless as you go over a cliff?????
Apr 15, 2012 9:10AM
As many times as my pc freezes and the auto teller at the gas pump fizzles......i dont know........
Apr 11, 2012 12:16PM
Not always true Mangladaxle. You can be tailgated WHILE you are passing another car, WHILE being in the right lane, WHILE in heavy traffic. There is NO excuse for tailgating, it's rude, inconsiderate and unsafe.
Apr 15, 2012 6:46AM
Driverless cars!!!! Hell, we have them already. Look around you.
Apr 15, 2012 5:32AM
Brainless people, driverless  cars. One necessitates the other.
Apr 15, 2012 8:19AM
We have mindless voters so why not driverless cars.
Apr 15, 2012 5:51AM
Can I have a beer while the car drives me here and there?  If so, I'm a go today.
Apr 15, 2012 9:08AM
Where are they gonna sell em at, China and India. They might sell a handfull of em in the USSA, but thats about it. The only ones left here with any buying power are the top 10%.
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