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CES: Autonomous tech steals the show

Ghosn fishing: Nissan’s boss demonstrated the autonomous tech that will allow future customers to concentrate on other matters while travelling in a car

Top car-makers rollout latest self-driving systems in Las Vegas


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6 Jan 2017

AUTONOMOUS cars have been the predominant flavour of the month at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, with four mainstream manufacturers rolling out practical demonstrations of vehicles that do not need a driver.

The show has increasingly become the favoured event of the global automotive calendar for heavyweight brands to show off their latest advances in vehicle technology including self-driving cars, and 2017 has seen even more autonomy demonstrations.

Audi’s Piloted Driving endeavours have taken a step closer to its first autonomous car by 2020 with the announcement that the car-maker has expanded its partnership with North American technology group Nvidia and Israeli tech firm Mobileye.

This has resulted in the car-maker’s latest self-driving test car based on a Q7 large SUV which has been rigged with Nvidia gear including a core ‘central driver assistance controller’ named the zFAS.

Nvidia developed the controller specifically for integration into Audi’s MIB2 platform using its Nvidia Drive PX 2 processor and a two megapixel front camera, allowing the test car to negotiate a dedicated track without human intervention.

The difference between Audi’s latest technology and its previous advances is that the system is able to ‘learn’ from the environment and the driver’s reactions to it.

While some systems may use existing data to prepare for approaching permanent traffic lights for example, the Audi system is capable of reacting to temporary signals as well by remembering how the driver responded to previous sets of lights.

Audi is calling the technology artificial intelligence and elements of it will surface first in production form in the next-generation A8 large executive sedan.

Mobileye is supplying the image processing chip for the zFAS, continuing the long-standing partnership with Audi and its contract to supply the forward-facing camera for a number of driver assistance systems in existing Audi models.

Nvidia’s relationship with Audi was forged to provide the high-speed processor for the company’s range-proliferating virtual cockpit display.

Nissan also demonstrated its latest autonomous technologies at CES this year but added an extra vote of confidence in its systems by putting its chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn in the ‘driver’s’ seat.

The Japanese car-maker exhibited a number of aspirational and conceptual technologies that are expected to filter down in various forms to production vehicles over the coming years, including self-driving advances which, it too, predicts will arrive in 2020.

Mr Ghosn was on-board for a demonstration of the company’s Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) system which addresses the problem of driverless car behaviour in exceptional and unusual circumstances.

The technology works on the principle that autonomous technology, in early forms, be able to negotiate all situations such as arriving at an accident where there are unusual signs, traffic management personnel and new hazards.

Rather than trying to understand the situation, Nissan’s SAM system has been developed to recognise the difficult scenario and ask for help.

At the demonstration in Las Vegas, the challenged car used an up-link to NASA’s Ames Research centre to contact a human ‘mobility manager’ who assesses the situation via vehicle cameras and sensors, before instructing the car what to do by ‘painting’ a course on a map.

Rather than leave it there, the system sends the data provided by the operator to all other vehicles in its network to build an action plan for use in similar future situations. With enough data the vehicles can ‘learn’ to resolve the challenge themselves and, ultimately the command centre will be made redundant.

The car-maker also used CES to announce its application of autonomous technologies in the commercial vehicle sphere in collaboration with internet tech company DeNA. From this year, the company will start testing vehicles in designated zones of Japan ahead of mobility service trials in Tokyo by 2020.

Hyundai weighed into the self-driving celebrations in Nevada with a version of its forthcoming Ioniq electrified car which left the heavily-controlled test track behind in favour of Las Vegas’ roads.

Unlike many prototype self-driving cars, the Hyundai’s technology is hidden neatly behind the front bumper with nothing other than the absence of a driver to give the game away.

Its array of laser and radar sensors use some of the existing technology fitted to the production car demonstrating that the hardware part of the autonomous car conundrum is relatively simple to crack.

BMW rounds out this year’s show of no-show drivers with an announcement that it will put a fleet of 40 development 7 Series on US and European roads, but also wheeled out a prototype 5 Series in Las Vegas to demonstrate the technologies that will support autonomous cars.

The specially-tailored executive sedan was equipped with the latest version of the German car-maker’s ConnectedDrive systems and technical modifications that allow the car to look after itself on specially designated sections of road.

BMW Connected also featured heavily at the brand’s stage this year with the HoloActive Touch contactless control system on show as well as the Connected Window, which serves as a single interface to combine all the user’s personal mobility planning via the Open Mobility Cloud.

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