Getting Real on Assisted Driving

Sept. 12, 2014

This week I am at the 21st World Congress for the Intelligent Tranportation Society.  Let me expound upon my last post regarding autonomous vehicles.  As I wrote this title, it made me think of the people I visit in assisted living places.  That sounds terrible, but may not be too far from reality.  In answer to a question about the classic approach of introducing new technology to luxury car owners, a VP at Toyota's Technical Center in the USA said their approach to improving safety recognizes that the youngest drivers and the oldest drivers are the ones that need the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).  So, certainly, as we age, we can benefit from technology that offloads some of the driving task.  

In answer to a question of when there will be real, autonomous vehicles that can reliably handle any and all scenarios safely, reliably and cost effectively, a panel of Chief Technology Officers and such said it would be next decade, or 2025 or 2030.  Based on my experience with such predictions, it will take even longer.

On Sunday, the CEO of General Motors indicated customers want "unfettered personal mobility."  People want to get from point A to point B.  So why do some people want to call this a "driverless" vehicle?  If a driverless vehicle takes my clubs to the golf course, but leaves me at home, since it is driverless, what good is that?  So, of course there will be a person in the car--it won’t technically be “driverless”.  But, there are a few exceptions.

One of those is parking. In my talk on Future Truck at the Technology and Maintenance Council in the spring, I talked about taking a small step toward autonomous vehicles.  I suggested it would be valuable to the trucking industry if we could have a driver maneuver a truck to the fuel island, then get out and be relieved of duty.  Someone else would fuel the vehicle and inspect it.  Then the rig would park itself.  I expect this could give a driver up to one hour of time each day for more driving.  Well, today I saw two examples of this.

First,Valeo demonstrated automatic parking in a lot of an SUV using a smartphone app to tell the vehicle to park and then, later, tell it to come pick me up.  On Monday, Peterbilt put out a press release on their latest prototype of an autonomous vehicle.  I had a chance to video tape it and ride in it this afternoon.  Like many prototypes, it has its rough edges.  But, it does show the potential for limited autonomous driving of a vehicle.

In case you think you'll never see autonomous vehicles, I'd like to point out that you probably ride in one all the time.  Most are too young to remember when elevators had "drivers" that were responsible for closing the door, selecting the floor and controlling the speed of the elevator car.  Today, we all just get in, push a button and wait while we are taken to our destination safely, reliably, inexpensively and autonomously.

Most of the engineering leads in the panels focused more on someone still being behind the wheel and able to take control when necessary.  That's consistent with the GM announcement for SuperCruise, where the driver will still be behind the wheel, but assisted with a new version of cruise control.  Well, there is another step coming in cruise control--collaborative cruise control.  At first, we had to control speed with our foot.  I expect there were a few ingenious drivers that figured out a way to fix the throttle pedal at a specific point so that they could cruise with their foot off the pedal.  With the introduction of electronically controlled engines, foot-off cruise control became standard.  [As a side note, many fleets would still like drivers to use it more often, as it will save fuel.]  

With the advent of radar collision warning systems, we advanced to adaptive cruise control where the vehicle maintains a distance from a lead vehicle automatically.  A few years ago, predictive cruise control was brought to market using GPS information on hills to modify cruise control when ascending and descending hills to save fuel.  I had a chance to drive along with the Peloton platooning trucks in a demo today.  The engineer called it collaborative cruise control, as the following vehicle works together with the lead vehicle to do more than maintain a short following distance.  It also uses wireless communications to make sure the following vehicle can stop quickly if the lead vehicle needs to stop.  Electronics, being ever vigilant and fast, can respond to the lead vehicle braking faster than a human can.

So, getting real, it seems there will be a driver in the vehicle, behind the steering wheel, except in some limited, low speed applications such as parking, moving trailers around a yard and at docks.  In the other cases, it will be more like autopilot on a plane with the electronic systems assisting the driver.  

About the Author

Paul Menig | CEO

Paul Menig is the leader of Tech-I-M LLC, a consulting company focused on helping companies succeed by leveraging technology in their products and processes. After successfully introducing many high tech products in the corporate worlds of General Electric, Eaton and Daimler, he is now focused on savvy technology creating powerful results in companies of all sizes.

Paul also provides free counseling to a wide range of businesses as part of the non-profit organization SCORE that is associated with the Small Business Administration (SBA). Paul is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in electrical engineering and has participated in many training programs in quality, strategic planning, finance and technical areas.

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