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Robocars Ruled in 2017

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【Summary】Self-driving cars finally became a reality in 2017– even if they're not yet ready for prime time.

Mia Bevacqua    Jan 06, 2018 10:00 AM PT
Robocars Ruled in 2017

There was a lot of big news in 2017 – a new U.S. President, hurricanes, a total solar eclipse. And robot cars. This last year, autonomous cars finally became a reality – even if you still can't buy one at your local dealership.

The Waymo way

Waymo made some of the biggest headlines in autonomous car news, by launching a self-driving ride share service in Arizona. In November, the company relocated its human pilots from the driver's seat to the back seat. This afforded the robo-taxis true autonomy. The ride-share program is still in the development phase, but hey, it's a start. 

Taking cruise control to the next level

Many new cars offer adaptive cruise control to automatically adjust vehicle speed to coincide with the car ahead. This is pretty advanced stuff – but nowhere near as advanced as the driver-assist programs debuted in 2017 by Audi and Cadillac. 

Audi introduced its Traffic Jam Pilot, soon to be released on forthcoming A8. This cutting-edge system offers level 3 autonomy, so the driver can play Candy Crush behind the wheel –  as long as they're prepared to retake control. 

Cadillac also introduced its Super Cruise system which comes in at a level 2 on the autonomy scale. But don't let that fool you – Super Cruise allows the driver to take their hands completely off the wheel. The trade off though, is the car bombards the driver with camera interrogations, to ensure they're still alert enough for the road. 

It's not all sunshine in Silicon Valley

Building a self-driving car that can navigate the streets like you and I is hard – really hard. Engineers built self-driving cars decades ago. Building one that can move from the test track to the city streets is the trick. Many engineers enter self-driving car development with lofty expectations – then reality hits. This causes a never-ending cycle of promise and retractions in Silicon Valley.

For example, the Previous head of Waymo, Chris Urmson, said in 2015, his 11-year old son wouldn't need a driver's license. Instead, he would be shuttled around by robocars. Urmson retracted the statement not long after and left Waymo. Apparently, engineering a self-driving car can be a real pain in the rear bumper. 

Despite all the frustration, autonomous cars are coming – and soon. They're just not coming as quickly as once promised. But virtually every automotive company is devoting resources (i.e. cold hard cash) to speed things up. 

Tech companies, such as Intel, are getting in the game, too. The chipmaker scooped up Mobileye for $15 billion last year, for integration into its autonomous driving program. Nvidia is getting around too, as it recently partnered up with both Audi and Bosch. 

It's true, 2017 was great for self-driving cars. But if Moore and his ever-famous law have anything to say about it, 2018 will be even better. 

Source: IEE Spectrum 


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