CES 2015

Heavy traffic on the road to the self-driving car

Automakers and suppliers speed development of autonomous vehicles

Published: January 08, 2015 04:00 PM

This Audi A7 drove itself 560 miles to Las Vegas.

The road to the self-driving car” is a popular catch phrase here at CES. Judging by the how often we’ve heard the term this week, it’s becoming a well-traveled thoroughfare.  

Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen were among carmakers demonstrating  vehicles with at least some self-driving capability, and we also rode in operating prototypes from component suppliers Delphi and Valeo. Hyundai and Mercedes showed self-driving concepts, and virtually all major carmakers are working on their own autonomous vehicles, whether they were talking about them here or not. (See our previous report on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.)

Nissan has already promised to have self-driving cars available by 2020, and Volvo plans to put 100 autonomous vehicles in the hands of Swedish drivers by 2017. Audi is going all in, with their CES announcement to have fully autonomous vehicles in U.S. showrooms within a couple of years.

Hyundai Genesis

Suppliers, meanwhile, are gearing up with digital dashboards that can switch back and forth between autonomous and conventional modes. Valeo showed us an operating prototype that turns the entire digital instrument cluster into an entertainment and communications portal while in autonomous mode, with full phone, video, and Internet access.

To make sure that those behind the wheel are alert and ready to take control when needed, new driver monitoring systems are also on the way. Osram showed us an iris monitoring system that could measure alertness and serve as a security system to prevent unauthorized vehicle operation. And Texas Instruments showed a steering wheel that can sense heart rate to help determine if a driver is nodding off and provide an alert.

It’s not like we’re all going to wake up one morning to discover that all cars will be ready to drive themselves. But the evolution continues. Much of the technology for a self-driving vehicle is here today. Adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, and lane departure mitigation systems are three such technologies that are becoming increasingly common on production cars. From what we’ve seen at CES 2015, speeds are picking up on the road to the self-driving car.

—Jim Travers with Seung Mel Yu

Click on the image above to find all of Consumer Reports' coverage from CES 2015.

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