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article imageSelf-driving cars may be years in the future

By Ken Hanly     Jan 14, 2018 in Technology
Las Vegas - At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas there were many announcements about self-driving cars. However, even if you wanted to buy a self-driving (autonomous) vehicle you could not.
Selling a concept rather than a market-ready car
All throughout last year car companies spent billions on research and development (R&D) on autonomous cars and then millions marketing the result of that research at the CES this week. As yet there is no product to sell or even any indication that everyone is just waiting to buy one.
You can currently purchase cars that have some basic autonomous driving software in cars by Tesla and Mercedes-Benz. Other autonomous vehicles such as tractors are further advanced.
Companies tout their technological advances
Ford was among those making announcements about advancements in its autonomous driving technology at CES. GM revealed a self-driving car with no steering wheel or floor pedals. Aurora announced that it will support the programs of Volkswagen and Hyundai to develop an autonomous car.
Toyota touted its improved Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) abilities. LIDAR is used to measure the distance of a vehicle from an object and is key to ensuring that the autonomous vehicle does not collide with objects.
Autonomous vehicles may start with pizzas and senior citizens
There is competition among car producers over pizza delivery using autonomous vehicles. Toyota is teaming up with Pizza Hut.
Toyota calls its delivery vehicles “e-Palettes” and describes them as “fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicles designed to be scalable and customizable for a range of Mobility as a Service businesses.” They are somewhat like transparent cargo or shipping containers on wheels. They are larger or smaller in size depending on their specific task.
Ford Motor Company had already announced they would be joining with Dominos. So among the first autonomous delivery vehicles you see on the road may be delivering your pizza.
Tests are now being made of autonomous vehicles in fenced areas. Voyage has carried out tests in a Florida retirement community. Driverless vehicles could be transporting seniors soon.
Ford's cars and the smart city
Ford stressed that it intended to develop open source, rather than proprietary, code for the industry, even describing itself as a public partner rather than just a big corporation seeking profit.
Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds said: ”Ford’s vision for the smart city is an interesting premise, but at this point it’s not much more than that. Bringing this smart city to reality will require significant municipal cooperation and investment, and it remains to be seen if local governments share Ford’s ambitions. It’s admirable that Ford is taking a philosophical approach and is looking at how connected vehicles can change society for the better, however, this future is a long way off.”
Autonomous vehicles do appear to be a feature of the future, so no doubt many auto makers want to ensure that they are poised to be ready for the market when it does arrive. If they do not, they may find themselves left behind and their profits will dwindle. Companies such as Tesla or Google may see them in their rear view mirrors so to speak.
Will people accept the new technology?
Autonomous cars could be a boon for those with special needs. Perhaps autonomous vans or small buses could serve to transport senior citizens or those with physical disabilities that do not allow them to drive.
Surveys show that most people are wary of sharing the road with fully autonomous vehicles. Many fear that a road filled with a mixture of autonomous and regular vehicles may pose dangers. In a recent poll 31 percent said that they would be very concerned about sharing a road with a driverless car and another 33 percent said they would be somewhat concerned. The poll was by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
Companies want to convince the public that autonomous vehicles are safe. Perhaps the safe arrival of pizza from Pizza Hut or Domino's in a driverless delivery vehicle will help quell fears.
2018 may see another sales slump for automakers
Caldwell remarks: “Last week at CES automakers tempted with visions of the future of transportation, but the Detroit show is all about the here and now. While 2018 will be another strong year, it will be a down year — so automakers are using the Detroit show to serve up more of the trucks and SUVs shoppers crave. Funding mobility startups and investing in EV and autonomous technology isn’t a cheap proposition, and automakers have to keep the cash flowing in now if they want to build the strongest foundation for the future world they’re envisioning.”
The automakers will need to ensure that they sell enough of existing models to fund the expensive research necessary to compete in the future autonomous market. They also need to drive around writers on auto issues in the fancy new concept cars such as the Mercedes-Benz, Smart Vision EQ Concept.
The need for regulations
Before autonomous cars take to the roads there must be regulations, federal motor vehicle safety standards set for the vehicles. In a recent poll on the issue 63 percent were against any mass exemptions of autonomous vehicles from existing federal safety standards.
There was strong support, 75 percent, for the US Department of Transportation developing new standards for autonomous vehicles. The poll surveyed 1,005 adults last December.
More about Consumer Electronics Show, selfdriving cars, autonomous vehicles
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