/Is The Fully Autonomous Car Just Around The Corner?

Is The Fully Autonomous Car Just Around The Corner?

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Over the past two decades the technology crammed inside of a mobile phone has seen the basic house brick, capable of only making calls, transformed into a slim and stylish miniature computer.

A lifetime’s worth of music and photos can be placed in the palm of your hand. Thanks to the bottomless pool of apps now available to the Smartphone, businesses can now be operated from the touch of a button, and although we still communicate via the text message, social media apps allow for using sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – technology has completely changed the way in which we run our lives, whether it’s saving time or acquiring ‘on-tap’ information via apps.

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Of course, this technological advancement has made its way into other industries, from film and music to retail and marketing. Another enormous industry taking advantage of these ingenious developments is the automotive sector. Vehicle ‘Infotainment’ is what the Smartphone is to the Nokia house brick. What was once a simple 8-track/radio player, evolving into the cassette tape and then the CD player, is now a complex ‘touch screen’ platform with the ability to hold many Gigabits of data, including Satellite Navigation and multi-speaker ‘Surround Sound’ system.

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Silicon Valley giants, Google recently announced its alliance with Audi, Hyundai, Honda and GM (General Motors), and with Apple also targeting the same brands with its new tech, it appears 2014 will see a car-tech war similar to that of the Apple iPhone vs. Google’s Android.

So with future concepts including driverless cars that communicate with each other, what can we expect in the now as far as automotive gadgets and devices go?

Google is insidious in its growth and the way it’s managing to insert its proverbial finger into so many pies. Whilst Apple makes many mobile devices and Samsung does TVs, Google has managed to crash the party with its digital media player, Chromecast, a system providing digital HD online streaming.

Google has also released the Chromebook laptop, obviously aimed at Apples’ MacBook. Google+ has also taken on Facebook with their ever-growing networking site. Google are also behind the Nexus range of Smartphones and tablets, again their way of countering Apple’s constant evolution. And all of the car brands to use Google’s tech will also be the first cars to receive 4G connectivity.

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With all the whitecoats running around and scratching their heads, Apple’s Siri Eyes Free is considered to be the next big step up in automotive tech. It’s being framed as a safety booster, a button mounted onto the car’s steering wheel that enables you to toggle Siri on your iOS device. This means keeping your hands on the wheel instead of scrambling around searching for your device. Although it isn’t the first breakthrough into phone/integration we’ve seen, this simple solution is set to be one of the most widely utilized.

Apple look ready to take on Google as they have teamed up with Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Ferrari, Infiniti, Kia, Hyundai, Volvo, Acura, Jaguar, Opel and Cheverolet in offering their iOS in-car systems.

Remember the ‘phone to have’ of past, the Nokia? Well they haven’t stepped back and allowed the big boys to dominate the market like they have with their Smartphones. Perhaps not on the same scale as the Android and iOS platform, Nokia do have their Windows Mobile phones. They have developed their offering to the automotive market in the Nokia HERE Auto system. Obviously, Nokia have the technology to compete, but I wonder if they can bring anything new to the table as Internet connectitivity, device synching and mapping isn’t exactly new.

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Despite driverless, talking cars sounding a little sci-fi – although I have no doubts we’ll see it within the next decade – the developing systems can help to deal with the some of the problems we face today, such as the parallel parking manoeuvre.

The computer and phone gods aren’t the only ones trying to out do each other. Bosch recently gave the BBC a glimpse of what is achievable with their innovative parking app. You instruct the app on what you require the car to do, and then the car parks itself into tight spots all by itself – okay it’s not that simple. The car also requires 12 ultrasonic sensors for scanning the car’s environment to find a suitable space. Bosch also showed off their app at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Ls Vegas but they haven’t as yet given a release date.

Along with Bosch, Audi, BMW and Valeo presented their automated parking systems at CES. Valeo in particular were very impressive as their system enabled a car to drive itself down a line of cars, locate a space, and back into in – this is a feature they claim could be implemented in the not-to-distant future.

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Audi’s automated parking had an added feature with its traffic assist – this allows the car to take over the driving in highway traffic moving at 40-mph or less. The technology behind these features and devices – interpreting sensor information and constructing a 3D environment – rely on radar, laser, camera and computer processor components.

It just goes to show that these technologies are now so advanced, makers are close to demonstrating a fully autonomous prototype. As it stands, automakers are implementing the self-driving car feature by feature… perhaps this a good thing too.

Automakers and suppliers also revealed their app integration schemes. GM were considered the leading example with the App Shop feature within their MyLink system. App Shop enables Chevrolet owners to download and install apps into their cars’ dashboard. They used a Chevrolet Impala to demonstrate their icon-based touchscreen technology at CES. The amazing thing about App Shop is that it will be available this year in certain models.

The future?

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Climbing into your car will be like inserting a sim car into a Smartphone. With the touch of a button, you’ll have a fully functional infotainment system with downloadable apps. Parking wont be a problem, cruising the highway won’t be a problem, and your talking car can simply answer any other problems that come to mind.

So with all these driver problems eradicated by an autonomous car, will we benefit? Surely car insurance premiums should drop? As I write this insurance companies are using ‘Black Box’ Telematics. This involves the use of GPS technology to monitor your driving style – speeds, time of day you drive etc… The data is then sent back to your insurance company. The insurer takes the information to adjust your premium according to the way you drive. Another great advantage is that because the GPS box tracks your car, it’ll help the police locate it should it ever get stolen. Check your insurance company or search Car Insurance from Express Insurance for more black box information.

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As far as the fully autonomous car being just around the corner, I think it will be a while before we see it on the roads. The technology is there, but as I previously mentioned, it looks like it will be created bit-by-bit, introducing technology in stages. I think this is a good thing as if fully autonomous cars hit the market today, they’d soon flood the market with cars only teens understood how to operate – imagine a 75-year-old downloading and operating the latest self-parking app updates.

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Being a passionate car enthusiast, the fully autonomous car is my idea of hell. I want a car I can drive and park. I want to be able to feel every movement through the steering wheel. I don’t want 24 speakers offering me surround sound; I want the sweet sound of a howling V6 instead. I’m all for technological advancement, but taking the driving out of driving is going a step to far.

(Journalist) – James is a published fiction and article writer from London (UK) with a serious penchant for Ferrari F1, anything with an engine, and English Pointers.