In Las Vegas, the autonomous car shows its progress and limits

The latest technology is coming to Las Vegas as the global tech trade show, CES, opens its doors on January 5th. Participants can book a self-driving car.

At the big CES tech show in Las Vegas, attendees can book a self-driving Uber, explore public transportation without a steering wheel, and observe all the sensors that must accompany the arrival of an autonomous car on a road still full of pitfalls. .

The most enthusiastic have been promising the coming of vehicles that can drive without humans for years and have spent billions on it. But the technicians progressed less quickly than expected.

Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), has been offering paid self-driving rides to the general public in Phoenix, Arizona since 2020, but on heavily marked roads. Cruise, a General Motors company, became the first company in June to win permission to carry passengers in its robot taxi for a fee in San Francisco, which has more congested traffic, but initially only at night.

Motional, a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv in Las Vegas, has been offering autonomous rides with Uber since December, but still with an operator in the car just in case.

“Any company announcing that they’re still removing existing drivers for safety reasons is a big step forward,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a legal expert on autonomous driving at Stanford University. For example, several incidents involving Cruise vehicles while turning left have been reported and the United States Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) has launched an investigation. But for several experts interviewed by AFP, the software will be upgraded gradually.

Remote profitability

“The big question is how (these projects) can scale. How quickly can a company replicate this success in a city like Los Angeles? Or Minneapolis, where it often snows?” forward Bryant Walker Smith.

Many automakers are working on autonomous driving, or tools like cruise control, highway lane change, or parking assistance, if not in the short term. Ford, like Volkswagen, decided to end its stake in autonomous driving company Argo AI in October in favor of less ambitious technologies.

Elon Musk regularly promises that his Tesla will soon be fully self-driving, but his company has made it clear that driver aids, including what it calls “full self-driving capabilities,” are “designed to be used by a hands-on driver” on the wheel. “.

Developing an autonomous vehicle for a manufacturer or carrier is “a huge expense that doesn’t necessarily generate short-term returns,” notes Jordan Greene, co-founder of AEye, which designed a laser sensor called Lidar. environment.

According to him, the emergence of autonomous management depends more on the financial interest of companies than on technological progress. For example, car manufacturers can make a lot of money by marketing a platform of driving assistance tools that drivers can regularly update remotely for a fee.

The road transport sector, which needs drivers, is also interested in developing autonomous driving solutions on the most frequent routes. And “other markets may emerge”, believes Jordan Green. Like many sensor companies, AEye, which is present at CES, proposes using Lidar for traffic management or security on construction sites, for example.

“Exaggerated Accidents”

Austrian equipment maker Benteler Holon unveiled an autonomous and electric bus for public transport at CES on Wednesday, designed without a steering wheel or pedals and capable of traveling at speeds of up to 60 km/h. Production should begin in 2025, initially in the United States.

For its director Marco Kollmeier, “the failures (of self-driving cars) are completely exaggerated,” as is the media attention to any Tesla-related accident. “Autonomous driving is not just about letting the driver fall asleep at the wheel,” he says. A shuttle like the one in Holon could “redefine” public transportation by offering rides on demand or fixed routes.

Zoox, a subsidiary of Amazon, is presenting a similar car at the show. As for whether self-driving vehicles will face resistance from the general public, Jordan Greene isn’t too concerned. “This is a typical adoption curve,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it when I was told I would pay to ride with a stranger. Now I only take Ubers.”

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