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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Autonomous vehicle frenzy


It’s impossible to view any auto-related publication these days without finding a reference to self-driving vehicles.  Some, like reader/driver S.H., aren’t convinced that they may soon sit in the back seat reading a book while their car drives by itself, but corporate investment in the technology belies that doubt.

I have past reported of the huge money being spent by every vehicle manufacturer on autonomous vehicles, along with the well-funded Silicon Valley startups.  Technological giants like Apple and Google are relentless in the quest, and other entities like Uber have recently become big players in the field.

Another example joining the frenzy is Mobileye NV, an Israeli supplier of self-driving components, will provide systems for fully autonomous vehicles to two major automakers by 2019, the company says.  They have also announced deals with BMW, General Motors, Nissan, Volkswagen, and another undisclosed automaker to supply technology that will allow autonomous driving on certain highways, expected to hit the market in 2018.  The company is already supplying the technology for Tesla Motors’ Autopilot system.

Beyond that, Mobileye will soon release two technologies that promise to advance the driverless concept.  Their EyeQ4 is a chip that can process information from eight cameras at once and the EyeQ5 can process data from twenty sensors and allow for fully autonomous operation.  The EyeQ4 will be launched in 2018, and the EyeQ5, which the two unidentified automakers will use, will launch between 2019 and 2021.

So, the reality of self-driving is predicted to happen soon.  The EyeQ5, according to Mobileye, will be central to an autonomous vehicle’s computer, handling all the computations regarding driving policy and mapping.  The data from all of the vehicle sensors would be focused on a single EyeQ5 chip.

Of course, regardless of new car innovation, the average age of the United States’ vehicle fleet is over ten years old.  With many cars on the road even older than that average, we will still face decades of mixing driven and driverless cars and trucks.  Some will be manually operated and others will be partially and fully automated.  That will bring another unknown outcome, as drivers will have to coexist with vehicles that transport occupants safely and lawfully — behaviors that are not universal among the driving populace.

Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to speed adoption of these technologies by auto manufacturers.  He proposes guidelines as opposed to mandates to accelerate the progress.  That would mean, for example, that a technology will be deemed safe, but not required, leaving an open pathway automakers to employ the innovation at their own discretion, in ways they wish.

The Society of Automotive Engineers is in agreement, saying that “baseline standards” for technology are best, without mandates.  That sort of “fast, flexible rulemaking” would be best suited to a period of fast moving technological change, SAE authors Daniel Malone and John Creamer wrote in a tech paper this spring.

Another indicator of autonomous eventuality is that the auto industry is already studying how to market driverless cars.  It is expected that there will be differences in consumer motivation.  Some will want the latest technology for safety, some will want to drive themselves in a more powerful vehicle, and others will want a simple, affordable technology package.

Trying to be all things to all drivers will be a challenge, but whatever form the technology takes, change is indeed imminent.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at