RacingNation.com

New York Auto Show Driving Toward the Future

by Allan Brewer

The New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) is more than just a parade of sexy cars along the Hudson River. It also is a place where ideas are bounced off an informed automotive audience and networking fosters mutual interests. This year’s Automotive Forum, presented by the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) and J.D. Power, put the emphasis on high-technology and how it will impact the motoring public in the years to come.

Connectivity, mobility and autonomy are the buzz words of the 2016 NYIAS. Google, now seven years into its study of automotive technology, sees driverless autonomy as a good way to avoid deaths, and injury, and as a means to lower the frighteningly high incidence (94 percent) of accidents that result from human error. In Google’s eyes automatic emergency braking is only the start.

The test route for Google’s driverless vehicles has been primarily Route 101 along the shores of coastal California, one of America’s most-traveled multi-lane highways. In total, 1.5 million miles (equaling 110 years of cumulative behind-the-wheel experience) on the public roads have passed under the tires of the Google cars. They have encountered crosswalk froggers, been confronted on the highway by a naked man, watched remotely a woman dancing onto the hood of one of their driverless vehicles, and swerved at the last second to avoid hitting on the road ducks and chicks chased by a woman with a broom.

So what has Google learned so far? The answers are similar to what every experienced driver knows. Even the highest level of automation requires some attentiveness. Drivers tend to ignore the driving: reaching around to the back seat is an ubiquitous gaffe. City driving requires a much higher level of awareness and responsiveness. Predictive capabilities of how other cars and pedestrians will react are required, in line with the social norms of the location.

John Krafcik, the American-born engineer at the head of Google’s driverless car program, studied at Stanford before joining Ford, then becoming President at TruCar. Gray haired, slender and dressed in navy blue business casual style Krafcik knows he has a lot of convincing to do if autonomous cars are going to become a part of the fabric of American culture.

Krafcik doesn’t see driverless vehicles as a replacement for human driving; but rather an augmenting technology that can serve the mobile-challenged and disabled, create new jobs in service to tend the cars, and further the automation of parcel delivery. Krafcik still sees exciting, powerful performance vehicles as one of life’s great thrills; whereas autonomous driving fills the needs of daily and mundane driving—commuting being the primary example—that most of us would gladly transfer to the car and the cloud.

When will it happen? Depends on the readiness of public and policy-makers to accept driverless cars, says Krafcik. Google sees itself as a data-gathering company. It is simply collecting data through its testing, with a mind to “how to” rather than “what to” drive. Automakers are already readying themselves for an evolution of car control by making wireless connectivity a standard equipment feature.

Safety, accessibility and economic gain are the interests of government; but whose laws were written for an era of drivers and the mistakes they make. To its credit, lawmakers have already walked through a number of the steps toward automotive automation with the aviation industry, where fly-by-wire has been routine for years. The same is true with the railways, and to some extent with buses.

It’s probably safe to say that the technology and the products will prove themselves and arrive well before administrators are ready to cope with them.

Share Button
The following two tabs change content below.
Allan Brewer
Allan Brewer covers IndyCar and other racing series for RacingNation.com. Allan is a fixture at the race track, armed with keyboard and camera, eager to take you inside open-wheel sport where the news is being made. He comes to RacingNation.com with multiple professional awards from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AWWRBA). He began his motorsports writing career at FastMachines.com; and solely published IndyProRacer.com and A1GP.com, two award-winning websites for open-wheel racing's junior leagues, prior to becoming IndyCar correspondent at Motorsport.com. He has also covered Formula 1, NASCAR, Formula E, the Indy Lights Series and its predecessor Indy Pro Series, NHRA events and major auto shows. His major interest outside of competition is automotive technology and its application to the cars we drive every day on the public highways.