LIMA — Although there are no fully autonomous cars currently on the market, the industry is definitely moving in that direction with many cars now including driver assistance features.
Bernard Swiecki, Director of Automotive Communities and Senior Motive Analyst at the Center For Automotive Research, said the only companies currently testing autonomous cars are entities such as Google, Waymo and Uber. Despite the fact that Waymo has a few vehicles where a driver is not required behind a wheel, most of the cars still require one.
“Autonomous cars are so far in the future that there’s no forecast of when we will actually see one,” Swiecki said. “We are nowhere near the point where you can just buy an autonomous car and have it drive you around.”
The production of autonomous vehicles used by companies like Waymo is made possible by using truck sale profits, which Swiecki said is more profitable than car sales.
“That is how we are building the path to autonomous vehicles,” he said. “It costs billions of dollars to develop this technology. It’s a collection of technologies not just from the automotives, but from other industries, like electronics.”
Even though the average consumer does not have the ability to purchase an autonomous car, they can purchase mainstream vehicles with features that are are similar to those in autonomous cars.
Driving assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure and pedestrian detection and emergency braking are just some of the features that assist drivers operating a car.
Through adaptive cruise control, the computer in the car can help navigate the vehicle and will remain a given distance from another car in front of them. However, the driver will be required to hit the brake or gas when necessary.
The lane departure feature will warn the driver when the vehicle is drifting out of the lane, directing the car back.
Pedestrian detection and emergency braking, which Swiecki said is a common feature in most vehicles, will prevent the driver from accidentally hitting an object or running someone over.
Adaptive cruise control, lane departure and pedestrian detection and emergency braking were once only features in luxury cars, but now these features are in more widely available vehicles.
“We are now in the era where these technologies are proliferating in much more conventional vehicles,” said Swiecki. “It’s no longer just exclusively the domain of the luxury car world.”
The Tesla’s Autopilot is one of the driving assistance features that has had a lot of media attention, Swiecki said.
This particular feature allows the car to automatically change lanes without a driver steeling the wheel. It can also self park. The car can be summoned to and from a garage or parking spot. A driver is still required to be present. After a few accidents, that capability has been scaled back.
The best conventional automotive industry example of a car with advanced driving assistance features would be the Cadillac CT6, which is priced at $85,290, Swiecki said.
In order for the feature to work, the car has to detect a highway that has been radar mapped. If it is, it will notify the driver. The driver will then hit a button and the car will drive on its own, which does not require hands to be on the wheel. However, if drivers take their hands off of the wheel for too long or shut their eyes, a tiny camera that monitors the eyes will beep at them to help them regain awareness of their environment, Swiecki said.
That feature will only work on highways with entrances and exits only by ramps and that have no intersections and have been radar mapped precisely. The information is stored in the car so that the system has an exact understanding of what is around every turn, Swiecki said.
“I recommend looking into it as a very good example of where we are right now on the road towards fully autonomous vehicles,” Swiecki said. “To me, it represents the closest to what most people kind of think of as a car that drives itself.”
Reineke Nissan, located at 1350 N. Cable Road in Lima, has a variety of vehicles with driving assistance features. One of those vehicles is the all-electric Nissan Leaf.
“The Leaf is priced between $32,000 and $35,000 and has automatic lane departure, adaptive cruise control, front end collision, keyless entry, Bluetooth capabilities and a touchscreen panel,” said Ken Taylor, a sales associate with Reineke Nissan.
Because it is a fully electric car, it does not have an exhaust, does not create pollution and is required to be charged rather than filled with gas, Taylor said.
Other vehicles include the Nissan Rogue, a luxury SUV, and the Nissan Maxima, a luxury sedan, which are both priced around $38,000 to $40,000 and have all the same features as the Leaf. However, they are not electric cars, according to Taylor.
“The Maxima is the most leading four-door sedan and is absolutely amazing because it has 330 horsepower, a full panel roof, side warnings, and more,” Taylor said.
The 2018 models of the Ford F-150 (priced as low as $31,000), the Ford Explorer (as low as $44,000), and the Ford Escape (as low as $27,000) at Raabe Ford, located at 11260 Elida Road in Delphos, have driving assistance features, according to Sales Manager Joe Smith.
The 2017 and 2018 models of the Kia Rio ($18,400), Sorento ($31,535), Stinger ($50,645), Forte ($26,915), Sportage ($30,015), and Optima ($26,945) at Taylor Kia of Lima, 2100 N. Cable Road, have driving assistance features, according to Brett Longstaff, who works in the Taylor Kia of Lima sales department.
“What I like about the Stinger is that it has a surround view mirror, and you can turn it on and put it in reverse to see a 360 birdseye view of what is around you,” Longstaff said.
Swiecki believes that the future towards autonomous cars is promising.
“We are getting our hands on the costs, and we are making them at a higher volume. Higher volume means that the economy is off scale, and therefore there are more reduced costs,” Swiecki said. “One of the challenges is getting something cheap enough into mainstream vehicles. That kicks off a virtuous cycle in a way. At that point, you get to higher volumes, and that opens up savings from purchasing items at a lower cost from suppliers for more efficient production.”
Reach Camri Nelson at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @CamriNews.