You’ll be driving for at least another decade

What we learned this week at CES about the road ahead

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CES2020
To see if the electric-powered, autonomous future many envision can actually become a reality, Toyota will build the Woven City near Mt. Fuji and will invite 2,000 people to live there and use all advanced technology systems, including self-driving people-mover vehicles | Toyota image

Alphanumeric soup

AI. 5G. 8K. VR. AR. C-V2X. eVTOL. L2+. And don’t forget L4/5. AV 4.0.

Or, in English, they are: Artificial Intelligence. 5G wireless connectivity. 8K television display resolution. Virtual Reality. Augmented Reality. Cellular Vehicle-2-Everything connectivity. Electric Vertical Take Off and Landing. Level 2 Plus automated driving. L4/5 fully autonomous driving. And Automated Vehicles 4.0, the “Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies” plan released during CES by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

And in some way, all of them, well, except perhaps for 8K TV, relate to the future of automotive transportation and whether you will be in full control of your vehicle or will be helped and/or replaced by sensors and computers with artificial intelligence.

Don’t panic! The steering wheel is still yours 

Automakers are starting to look at cars as third living spaces, with home and work place being the other two. Increasingly, cars such as this Audi concept, are being designed to be more like a room or an office space than as a person-driven vehicle | Larry Edsall photo

While much is made of automated and autonomous driving, major automotive suppliers, the Tier I companies that do much of the grunt work for which the OEMs take credit, expect that it will be quite a while before there is true autonomous driving of passenger cars, pickups, SUVs or crossovers. 

Oh, there will be what are called Level 2+ driver assists, but the L4/5 autonomous stuff is still 4 to 5 years off and even then most likely will be used only in commercial trucks and shuttle vehicles operating in restricted areas or in dedicated lanes.

Part of the reason is the cost of all the technology needed to enable truly autonomous driving. Even to get to Level 2+ could add $1,000 or $2,000 to the cost of a vehicle’s manufacture, and it’s your guess what the OEM will charge for such technology at the dealership level.

Another is the need not only for cameras and sensors and high-performance on-board computer servers and widespread 5G so they can communicate quickly enough, but also if artificial intelligence enabled actuators and Lidar as well as radar.  And then there’s the legal framework that needs to be worked out.

For example, who’s responsible if there’s a collision while the car is driving itself? The OEM? The software or hardware supplier? The car owner who is just riding along?

Oh, and another example: How does a police officer stop a fully autonomous truck that might have violated some local ordinance if there’s no driver to signal?

Speaking of big trucks, there’s already a shortage of drivers, so one scenario has the first fleets of self-driving semis shuttling back and forth at ports or rail yards, thus giving drivers time off until their loads are ready for them to steer (or at least be at the wheel ready to steer) until they reach the location to unload.

By the way, executives from Bosch, which created airbags, anti-lock brakes and vehicle stability systems, were emphatic in their belief that the driver should always have the ability to override so-called driver-assist technology.

But they also note that vehicle interior sensors not only can help counter driver fatigue, but notify drivers if they’ve left a child in a vehicle and can even adjust airbags and safety belts to provide better protection for a passenger who has fallen asleep and no longer is sitting totally upright.  

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On the other hand, this may come as a shock

The 2020s are going to be the “electric decade” for the automobile. Even Jeeps will be offered with plug-in petrol/electric powertrains by 2022. 

Also expect to hear lots of talk about first- and last-mile solutions, including electric skateboard-style scooters, and even “next-mile” solutions in the form of package- and even people-carrying superdrones and helicopters.

Utoyotapian dream 

Autonomous vehicles — Toyota called them the e-Palette — will be used for travel within Woven City, which will be named in honor of Toyota’s original enterprise, weaving looms that produced cloth | Toyota image

Those of a certain age may remember the vision for Disney World in Florida, a vision of not just an amusement park but surrounding it there would be a new kind of community, where people lived and worked and played, with car-free pedestrian zones and monorails and automated roadways with vehicles that didn’t need a human behind the wheel to reach their destination. 

Those even older might remember the vision of a similar scenario showcased at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.

This week at CES, the annual trade show of the Consumer Technology Association, similar visions were shared by two automakers.  Hyundai wants to transform several major cities with flying taxis and self-driving people movers. 

Akio Toyoda announced that, with 45-year-old Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, automaker Toyota would turn a former assembly plant site near Japan’s Mt. Fuji into a hydrogen-powered, people and environmentally friendly living laboratory to see if the dream might be achieved on even a modest scale, Toyota Woven City as home to 2,000 people.

Road hazards

Although the death rate on American roads continues to decline, thanks in large part to mandated safety technologies, only recently has such a fundamental safety technology as airbags become mandatory in India and Brazil, and 1.35 million people a year around the world perish as a result of collisions involving motorized vehicles.

Lidar

Most folks are familiar with radar, which is actually short for RAdio Detection And Ranging. But what about lidar?

Lidar is short for LIght Detection And Ranging, and uses pulsed laser light to make its measurements. It does things in vehicles that radar doesn’t, including detection not only of what’s ahead, but of overhead objects, road debris, road markings and offset static objects, and on a 3-dimensional basis, and can do so at very short range (such as when parking).

My new favorite automotive technologies

I hate tire-pressure monitoring systems (I have a gauge and know how to use it) but love back-up camera systems. The new technologies I saw at CES that I want next are:

Bosch’s virtual visor, a see-through LCD screen that, when there is glare in the driver’s eyes, blacks out the pixels needed to provide shade while leaving the rest to provide a view of what’s ahead.

Continental’s Transparent Hood using cameras to give the driver a view of what lies just ahead of a vehicle’s front wheels. It is designed for use in low-speed, off-road driving when large rocks, fallen tree branches and other obstacles might impede the drive | Continental photo

Continental’s Transparent Hood, designed for use when off-roading and which uses camera-view projections on a screen that appears to erase the hood and engine and other mechanical components and instead shows your front tires and any obstacles ahead of them. 

Autonomous driving is oxymoronic

Note to the experts: Don’t call it “autonomous driving.” Occupants in a fully autonomous vehicle aren’t driving, they’re just along for the ride. 

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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