By Jeff Gilbert

FARMINGTON HILLS (WWJ) – Cars that drive themselves for short periods of time may be closer to becoming a reality than you think.

“We believe it’s possible to make a car semi-autonomous very, very safely,” said Peter Austen, who heads the driver assistance team at supplier TRW. “The driver can have moments in inattention, and the car will be doing the attention for him in, maybe, 85 percent of driving situations.”

Austen said that we are less than five years away from seeing these systems in vehicles, and the cost of the sensors and cameras behind the system is relatively low.

TRW and its Israeli partner MobilEye showed off a number of technologies to journalists. Austen says the price and size of these components has fallen drastically, while the processing power has grown exponentially.
Those sensors and cameras are already leading to systems that can detect pedestrians, and differentiate them from large animals.

“The system is truly sophisticated enough to know what is a true pedestrian and what is not,” said Amnon Shashua, who’s MobileEye’s co-founder.

Systems can be designed to move a car around pedestrians, or if there’s a hazard, stop before hitting the pedestrians. Cameras that can now read road signs are being upgraded to systems that read stop lights, detect construction zones and can even detect a “no entry” sign.

When you combine the sensors and cameras with GPS systems, Shashua says you end up with systems that can maintain speed, stay in their lanes, stop for red lights and emergencies, and quickly alert drivers if their attention is needed.

“When you are bored you can simply let go of the lateral control, and the throttle and brake for a limited amount of time. Your car would know about traffic light and be able to follow the road safely while you are doing something else, like text messaging.”

Shashua says his company already has agreements to put the systems on two vehicles that will be on the roads within the next five years.

The cost of sensors and cameras, he says, has fallen to the point where this technology could quickly spread from luxury cars to mass market vehicles.

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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