Autonomous car trend grows

First Posted: 1/14/2015

DETROIT — As appliances and gadgets get more Jetson-esque, so do, it seems, cars.

The North American International Auto Show included discussion about what several car companies are doing when it comes to self-driving or autonomous cars.

The technology many companies are using today, while not fully autonomous, does include elements of autonomy, such as lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision alert and parking assistance.

“It’s a technology trend that’s really gaining momentum,” said Bernard Swiecki, with the Center for Automotive Research, in a previous interview with The Lima News.

The technology to make cars completely autonomous is still five years away though, said Swiecki, assistant director for the Automotive Communities Partnership at CAR.

Some car companies may beg to differ on the timeline, as Alan Hall, technology communications manager at Ford, said the company has several cars with semi-autonomous features on the road now and is testing fully autonomous cars.

“It really is another step in safety and driver convenience,” he said. “We view them as assistance to make you a better driver. … They’re additional eyes, ears, arms and legs.”

Mercedes-Benz is touting its proposed “F 015 Luxury in Motion” car, which is fully autonomous and “close to production.”

It “provides a concrete example of visionary ideas the company is developing with regard to autonomous driving of the future,” according to a release from Mercedes.

The company showed a mock-up of the car at the auto show, with its sleek silver look and four seats facing each other instead of the road.

Honda and Hyundai kept more quiet about the technology they have.

For Honda, John Mendel, executive vice president of the automobile division, said Honda has some autonomous features in its cars and it’s just a matter of tying them all together.

“I think the industry is moving along pretty quickly on that,” he said.

As for Hyundai, spokesman Phil Floraday said the company is looking at all the technology. It also has many semi-autonomous features in its cars and Floraday said it is “always a focus of our company, anything we can do to keep drivers and passengers safe.”

Ford officials think the technology should be affordable and available for everyone, Hall said, but that isn’t the only worry.

The appropriate environment for autonomous cars and the sensors they use would have to exist, Hall said, and society would need to be ready.

“Hardware can be ready but [it’s] whether society is ready for full autonomy,” said William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman at Ford Motor Co. “When we get to full autonomy you better be sure it’s 100 percent.”

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