In the past 24 hours, Toyota and Volvo have made some interesting announcements about their plans for autonomous cars. While the technology they use looks promising, we'll be curious to see how quickly the two automakers can roll it out to the general public.
VOLVO ON AUTO PILOT
Volvo's announcement came in the form of a video press release. As you can see above, the clip gives an up-close-and-personal -- and somewhat stagey -- look at the automaker's IntelliSafe Auto Pilot.
There are a couple of interesting things about the system. Most importantly, it's optional. A driver punches in her destination, the system calculates the proper route, then it notifies the driver of the areas where autonomous driving is available. By making the system optional rather than mandatory, it gives Planet Earth's motorists time to acclimate themselves to the idea of self-driving cars. That, in turn, may help the adoption of the technology, since significant numbers of motorists aren't eager to hand over the driving duties just yet.
It's also interesting because it's a bit piecemeal. That's not meant to be derogatory, only to say that, as we've discussed many, many times before, autonomous technology will arrive in waves. Today, it's adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Tomorrow, it's a system that frees your hands during traffic jams, or when you're moving at highway speeds, as we've seen in demos of Volvo's SARTRE "road train" system.
Volvo's Auto Pilot technology will be tested in real-world conditions near the company's traditional home base of Gothenburg, Sweden, beginning in 2017. When it will roll out to consumer vehicles is anyone's guess.
The timeline will be determined, in part, by the speed with which regulators reach consensus on autonomous car standards -- something that worries Volvo's president and CEO, Håkan Samuelsson. Today, he issued a statement criticizing the U.S. in particular for dragging its feet on the matter, pointing to similar failures in Europe that have stymied development:
“The US risks losing its leading position due to the lack of Federal guidelines for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles. Europe has suffered to some extent by having a patchwork of rules and regulations. It would be a shame if the US took a similar path to Europe in this crucial area....
“The absence of one set of rules means car makers cannot conduct credible tests to develop cars that meet all the different guidelines of all 50 US states. If we are to ensure a smooth transition to autonomous mobility then together we must create the necessary framework that will support this.”
As Auto News reports, Toyota is also hard at work on its autonomous car technology, and the company has made promises to install it on passenger vehicles by 2020. That's a bit later than the "mid-2010" guesstimate the automaker issued a couple of years ago, but better late than never.
In the meantime, though, Toyota has plans to equip at least a portion of its lineup with updated "connected car" features, including cameras and radar that can keep vehicles a safe distance from other cars. The features also include the highly anticipated vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-grid systems, which let cars "talk" to one another and to elements like traffic lights.
Sold as package, those features are called ITS Connect. ITS will be available to Japanese consumers later this year for around $225. Of course, for the system to work effectively, cars have to be used in proximity to other ITS-enabled vehicles, as well as on roads equipped with the systems. Bringing the latter up to speed won't be easy -- or cheap.
On a longer timeline, Toyota has also been testing a modified, autonomous Lexus GS nicknamed "Highway Teammate". The car can handle itself on highways, from on-ramp to off-ramp. Toyota hopes to use this technology as the basis for autonomous vehicles, beginning in 2020.
As you can see from the video below, the Highway Teammate system bears a few similarities to Volvo's Auto Pilot, which suggests that this is generally how automakers plan to unveil self-driving tech.