Further Down The Driverless Road at CES 2104


The 2014 International CES played host to more than 3,200 global exhibitors showing the latest technologies in every conceivable category. Canadian Electronics magazine asked me to visit the Driverless Car Experience Techzone to check out the latest in sensor-enabled assistive technology for the automotive industry. You can read a PDF of the published article, or  the full unabridged version after the break.


Further down the driverless road at CES 2014

By Zac Bolan

The 2014 International CES attracted over 3,200 global exhibitors to the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Centre this January to showcase the latest in high tech gadgetry for more than 150,000 attendees. Increasingly, major automakers choose CES to unveil their latest innovations as the line blurs between enhanced automotive technologies and consumer electronics. This year featured record numbers as nine major automakers demonstrated the latest in autonomous driving systems, electric cars and vehicle-to-vehicle safety systems.

The Driverless Car Experience TechZone, sponsored by German innovation giant Bosch GmbH, featured live demonstrations of both driverless and driver assisted technologies by Bosch, Valeo and Ford on a closed track. Following the successful introduction of Ford’s Active Park Assist in the 2009 model year, automakers have long sought the holy grail of fully automated driverless-parking.

Bosch demonstrated Automated Park Assist, enabling a driver to Parallel Park or back into a space without being inside the vehicle. Ultrasonic sensors determine the size and suitability of a parking space, then alerts the driver through a smartphone app. At this point the driver shifts into neutral, exits the car and initiates parking by placing a thumb on the smartphone screen–acting as a virtual dead man switch. If the thumb moves from the screen, or someone steps into the parking space the car’s sensors stop the parking process.

Valeo, a leading supplier of automotive integrated systems responsible for developing Ford’s Active Park Assist, demonstrated their Automated Valet Parking (AVP) technology at the TechZone. The driver of an AVP enabled car simply exits their vehicle at the car park entrance, and then activates the Valet with a smartphone app.

The AVP module communicates with the car park to determine the best path to reach an available space. The car then self-parks using a combination of ultrasonic sensors, cameras and laser scanning to detect static or moving obstacles. When the driver is ready to return to the car, they wait at the car park exit and summon their vehicle through the same smartphone app.

When queried about potential time-to-market for autonomous parking technology, a Bosch spokesperson replied, “I don’t know. When you want to be outside the vehicle [while parking], it’s not a technical problem, it’s a legal problem.”

Safety is another key focus in the Driverless Car Experience. Imagine a small child running into the street from behind a parked car, just meters in front of your moving vehicle–would you be able to stop in time? Bosch hopes to help drivers in this situation save lives with their Pedestrian Detection and Automatic Braking technology. Using a stereo camera mounted between the rear-view mirror and the windscreen, sensors can detect a pedestrian or object suddenly appearing in front of the car and autonomously apply braking.

In a live demonstration, a Bosch driver accelerated to 30kph on a closed track. As the modified VW approached an obstruction, a mechanical child mannequin ‘ran’ out from behind a parked car. Without any operator intervention, the vehicle braked to a complete stop within a car length.

Ford demonstrated a different strategy for collision avoidance using Vehicle-To-Vehicle communication (V2V), something they consider a crucial sensor enabler for autonomous driving. Utilizing automotive-grade GPS and 5.9GHz wireless technologies, Ford collaborated with eight other major automakers and the US Department of Transport to develop a communications protocol allowing equipped vehicles to message each other 10x per second at a range of up to 500m.

Equipped cars exchange vast amounts of data including speed, position, acceleration, steering angle and braking–information that would be difficult to ascertain through existing line-of-sight technologies such as radar and vision sensors.

The Ford demonstrated the V2V concept with three connected cars enacting various scenarios illustrating the benefits of receiving data from cars you can’t see. In each case the driver of the demonstration car was alerted to the connected vehicle’s presence with a sound, flashing beacon and vibrating seat.

Ford spokesman Joseph Stinnott was optimistic about time-to-market for this technology. “The building blocks we need are already available in a lot of vehicles,” explained Stinnott, “we’re just putting them together in a different manner and using them for safety.”

The CES 2014 GoElectricDrive TechZone featured a variety of the latest electric car technologies by major automakers. Toyota unveiled the new FCV hydrogen-fueled electric concept car, due to launch in 2015.

“Fuel cell electric vehicles will be in our future sooner than many people believe,” said Bob Carter, senior VP for Toyota U.S.A. at the company’s CES press conference, “and in much greater numbers than anyone expected.”

Along side the dazzling Radiant Blue FVC sat one of four engineering prototypes that has been roaming the highways of North America for more than a year. The prototype has consistently achieved a driving range of more than 450 kilometers per tank with 10-second zero-to-sixty performance while producing emissions consisting of nothing more than water vapour. Toyota expects to initially launch the FVC in California, where the State has approved funding for the construction of more than 100 new hydrogen fuel stations by 2024.

BMW gave CES attendees the opportunity to test drive their zippy new i3 electric car, set to debut in May 2014 for just over $40,000 USD. With a range of approximately 150km between charges, BMW is targeting commuters in large metropolitan areas. ChargePoint, largest provider of open EV charging networks globally, announced their partnership with BMW at CES. Utilizing BMW’s Connected Drive navigation system, i3 owners will have access to more than 14,500 charging stations through their i Remote smartphone app.

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