Bosch and BMW show how close they are to the self-driving car. My interview with BMW's Werner Huber.
Autonomous driving is the Next Big Thing, and nowhere is that more evident than at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where I am right now. Automobile Magazine even named Autonomy its Technology of the Year for 2014. BMW will be showing this autonomous prototype during the show. Watch this video and prepare to be impressed.This all begs the question that’s burning in my mind. “Will my next car do the driving so I can have back all that time I waste on long freeway drives and bumper-to-bumper traffic?”
“This is all in the research stage,” BMW’s Werner Huber told me with a sly smile. “Though technically we are very close to a car that can do that."“This is all in the research stage,” BMW’s Werner Huber told me with a sly smile. “Though technically we are very close to a car that can do that.” He is head of Driver Assistance and Environmental Perception at BMW Group Research and Technology. But just because the technology exists doesn’t mean you can buy it. Sure, you'll have a choice of cars that can park themselves in the next couple of years. But a fully automated car is a long way off. And one reason for that is evident in Bosch’s demonstration of that self-parking car technology. Before that demonstration car would park, the driver had to accept a liability waiver. And the app he used to manage the parking remotely requires that the driver touch an icon while the car parks. If he lifts his finger off the icon, the car stops. There is a good reason for this. “The driver must always be in control of the car, even if the car is in an automatic mode,” explained Huber. Legally, the liability for anything the car does must be with the human. So, even though research prototype automated cars can technically do a lot of things on their own, we can’t let them. Allowing the car to drive means changing laws that vary by state and country and that have governed transportation for decades. No easy task. And not a task that is likely to happen in time for me to start shopping for a fully automatic car anytime soon. Until the legal landscape is clear, explains Huber, car manufacturers will keep testing the limits of human control of the vehicle. Cars will increasingly correct mistakes, take over some of the driving chores, and intervene in case of emergency by braking or correcting the human's steering. Cars might be able to take over in some circumstances or at some speeds. But the driver will have to maintain ultimate decision making power. And that is bad news for that nap I was hoping to take during my commute.