“Comfort industries” have long been seeking ways to bring ease to our everyday lives. It would mean diminishing the level of human interference in daily tasks e.g. in housekeeping. Thinking of robots sweeping the ground and even serving us food looked like an ideal landscape for the future of mankind. Having a robot driving our car could be an equivalent image for many.
The introduction of AI transformed the whole human experience. Nowadays we carry “smart” phones and we can hardly imagine living without them. We are literally surrounded by “invisible” robots who assist us in all aspects of life. And the dream of having a robot (aka AI) as our driver has already come true. “Autopilot” or “self-driving” cars are going to become another “ordinary” addition to our lives. Described as “semi-autonomous driving technology”, the term “Autopilot” was first used by the leading autonomous vehicle manufacturer Tesla, but it’s not a new word, as it has been in use in various industries, including aircraft, for many years.
Autopilot vehicles industry is turning into one of the biggest and most promising investment arenas. Even companies like Google, Apple, Samsung and Huawei have come into play. While Tesla is known as the leading company, almost all major car manufacturers are now working on designing and manufacturing autopilot vehicles and developing exceptional self-driving systems. The latest merger taken place between Nissan and Renault for basing their autopilot vehicles R&D center in Israel is just an example of the importance and fast growth of this technology.
As of now many car manufacturers offer driving assistance options similar to the ones offered by Tesla, and the level of human interference in driving is a determining factor in classifying the type of automation offered by such companies as a part of their optional packages.
Generally, autopilot refers to any system that can guide itself without human intervention. But the level of human intervention is a determining factor and it includes five levels, from semi-automated systems to fully automated driving functions
As we can see in 2019, most of manufacturers have focused on level 2 functions (semi-automated, including steering, braking and speed control). This means that the autopilot can do (most of) the steering, accelerating and breaking functions, but the drives should still be completely alert and be ready to intervene in the functions if necessary.
Therefore, today’s autopilot vehicles are not able to self-drive. What they actually do is “assisting” you in driving, and they are commonly referred to as “semi-autonomous” vehicles. Currently Tesla company is working hard to introduce fully autonomous vehicles, able to perform level 4 or 5 “fully automated” functions, until 2021. Audi has reportedly introduced Level 3 functions in Europe recently.
So we can expect from the autopilot cars in 2019?
These cars are equipped with built-in sensors that detect nearby cars. Radars and cameras help maintaining the distance from other cars, speeding up or down when necessary. The newest models offered by Tesla feature 8 surround cameras with 360 degrees of visibility which are effective in a 250 meter range around the car. Additionally, 12 ultrasonic sensors help the detection of hard and soft objects.
One of the core features of current autopilot systems is Adaptive-Cruise-Control (ACC) enables the car to keep the speed and change the lanes after having it approved by the driver. The newest ACC systems can be very helpful for those who live in crowded areas, slowing down and stopping the car, then moving when the traffic moves forward.
While “Lane Keeping Assist” is not considered a new technology, it is a way improved in new autopilot systems, keeping the car in the center of the lane, and following the lanes throughout highways, as long as there is no notorious curve.
To be more exact, current autopilot systems are mainly useful for freeways with mild curves and highways devoid of cross-traffic at intersections. While current autopilot systems are able to follow a navigation route on freeways, Level 2 autopilot in some systems can work in any road with clear markings, but the driver is still responsible for watching stop signs, traffic lights and cross-traffic. The above mentioned features are commonly known as advanced safety packages.
While Tesla is known to offer the most accurate and sophisticated autopilot systems, other major corporations who offer the most advanced autopilot features include General Motors, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen Group (parent company of brands like VW, Audi and Porche), Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, Subaru, Ford, Hyundai, Uber, and Wayamo (division of Google’s parent company, Alphabet).
These are listed by experts as the best cars with semi-autonomous features in 2019:
- Tesla 3, S and X Models (With “Autopilot” System)
- BMW X5 and 3 Series (With “Traffic Jam Assistant” System)
- Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class (With “Drive Pilot” System)
- Cadillac CT6 (With “Cadillac Super Cruise” System)
- Audi A6 and A8 (With “Audio Traffic Jam Pilot” System)
- Nissan Leaf and Rouge (With “ProPilot” System)
- Infiniti Q50 (With “ProPilot” System)
- Volvo XC90, XC60 and XC40 (With “Pilot Assist” System)
Currently, most governments have restricted the testing of autopilot cars to approved testing tracks. However, one can spot self-driving cars in certain areas like Phoenix, Arizona and some other cities in the USA. Public tests have also begun in Australia. “Driverless” cars and buses are being tested by Volvo in Stockholm, Sweden. Japan, China, and Singapore are testing self-driving taxis with humans behind the wheels. Testing Volkswagen self-parking cars in Hamburg airport has been approved by the German government. All that being said, we should wait and see what the future holds for this fast-growing technology.