Autopilot Cars are on the Horizon

Imagine getting into your car and “telling it” to take you home. And it does.

Although it’s probably another 10 years before autopilot cars begin their ascension into the mainstream, you could be seeing hands-free drivers on the road as early as this year. The experimental versions of our future rides are already beginning to hit pavement as systems are developed, refined and perfected for mass production.

Audi autopilot car

Audi A7 at CES

The Audi A7 is currently the most talked about hands-free car in the making, and it is cool. Very cool.

Also known as autonomous cars, they are licensed in each state according to the state’s policies.

Drivers use their iPhone or smartphone to pilot this car, with an Audi-designed system called Audi Connect, giving owners the ability to operate the car’s navigation system which, by the way, integrates with Google Earth using Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI). James Bond has nothing on this sweet vehicle.

Developers believe that the security features of auto-pilot cars will be an important draw, as drivers can request the car start its engine and move to the spot where the driver is waiting – a safety feature for dicey situations; think parking garage or dark parking lot late at night.

The Audi A7 can not only come to the entrance to pick you up, it can park itself in an underground parking garage. Audi is leading the pack when it comes to developing integrated technology to avoid the unnecessary hassle of trying to park – the car actually seeks out an appropriate parking space, parks itself, shuts itself down and locks the doors.

Consider the freedom these autonomous cars will have on the elderly population, who will be able to drive longer and more safely than ever before. States with large elderly populations like Arizona and Florida are expected to be the first to make auto pilot cars a routine sight on the road.

Google, of course, believes autonomous cars will be mainstream within the next three to five years, but that point of view is not surprising, coming from a technology perspective. The hardware is developed for the most part, and the software and firmware is almost there. But these smart cars still have some complex obstacles to overcome which are probably obvious to most drivers.

Volvo autopilot car

image courtesy of

Developers are projecting high safety ratings for self-driving cars, and claim that 33,000 fatalities can be avoided on U.S. Roadways each year. But there is still a matter of ensuring that hardware and software is infallible, or at least redundant backup systems exist to give drivers adequate warning when trouble arises. Self driving autos must be able to respond to erratic drivers and unexpected circumstances in order to be viable. Most likely, autonomous cars will not be self-changing flat tires right away, although never say never. The technology is growing faster than the potential problems.

Of course, there will be bureaucratic hurdles before the National Traffic Safety Administration approves autonomous vehicles, and doing so is no simple task – especially considering the fact that the NHTSA is not a forerunner when it comes to automotive electronics research, meaning their capabilities are not sophisticated enough to establish the testing requirements necessary to approve the vehicles.

Even if the NHTSA’s challenges can be addressed in time for production to begin within the next three to five years, there’s always the insurance industry to contend with. Liability will need to be established – is it the driver, the car’s manufacturer, or the manufacturer of a component? Nobody knows yet, and until the insurance industry irons out the answers they can be expected to push back any roll-out of auto pilot vehicles.

Once consumers become thoroughly aware of the benefits of autonomous cars, auto manufacturers expect a public push for the government, insurance industry, and any other obstructionists to step aside and let technology happen.

Because we’re all going to be chomping at the bit to have our iPhones fetch the car. How cool will that be?

Autopilot Cars are on the Horizon
was last modified: September 23rd, 2017 by Brian Peterson

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