Just about every major automaker is developing automated vehicle technology. Experts predict we’ll see the first highly automated production vehicles by 2020 with fully automated cars expected by 2025. Automation will come incrementally with more of these technologies becoming available with each new model year.
Already, vehicles with early forms of self-driving technology are in dealer showrooms, such as adaptive cruise control that automatically maintains a safe following distance from the car ahead and parking assistance that helps maneuver a car into parking spaces. Other available automated technologies include Lane Departure Warning, Obstacle Warning, and Blind Spot Detection. While most are passive systems that alert a driver to a hazardous condition, in the future these will be able to automatically take corrective action if a driver fails to react.
Most of the near-term technology augments a human driver in controlling the vehicle, similar to the autopilot used in airliners that allows the driver to take over at any time. Since today’s computers and other electronics are now quicker than the human brain, on-board systems could also provide control in an emergency situation.
As an example of what’s coming soon, BMW’s Traffic Light Assistant will communicate with traffic lights to inform a driver of the speed needed to match the timing of traffic lights. In the future, this could be done automatically. Traffic Jam Assistant, debuting in the BMW i3, maintains a safe distance between vehicles, controls speed and steering, stops the car in heavy traffic if necessary. As long as the driver keeps one hand on the steering wheel, it keeps the car in its lane at speeds up to 25 mph.
There are several challenges to automated vehicles, not the least of which is cost since LIDAR (laser radar), ultrasound sensors, computer vision systems, and other electronics are expensive. However, following the known trajectory of advanced electronics in all facets of our lives, prices will surely drop dramatically with widespread use.