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Other Traditional Car Companies

BMW

BMW currently offers many Level 2 automated driving features on its vehicles. Active Cruise Control uses a radar sensor to measure the distance between your car and the one in front of you, automatically keeping a safe distance and accelerating and decelerating as appropriate. Blind spot detection warns drivers through a blinking light and a vibrating steering wheel when another vehicle is in your blind spot, and collision warnings are projected onto the windshield. BMW also offers lane change warnings, which vibrates the steering wheel if you cross the lane markings without using your turn signal. A safety feature automatically tightens seat belts, puts seats into an upright position, and closes the windows if a crash is imminent. BMW vehicles can also be equipped with parking assist.

On a larger scale, BMW announced in May 2016 that it is developing the iNext, an electric, self-driving car that is slated to be in showrooms in 2021. This car will be able to self-drive in most situations, according to the BMW CEO, and BMW is partnering with Intel and Mobileye to develop this vehicle.

Until then, BMW is working on adding other partially-autonomous features to its fleet. BMW is working to develop Remote Valet Parking Assistant, which would allow you to send your car to park, and then have it come back to you when you are ready to leave. This feature would use four laser scanners and maps of parking garages, which could take some time to compile. Using these same lasers, BMW is also developing a collision avoidance system that detects and prevents imminent collisions.

BMW has also developed self-driving capabilities on the highway, though this option is not on the market for consumers yet. BMW wants their self-driving car to look like a regular 5 series and not have obvious sensors and radars on the exterior. Currently, they plan to focus solely on highway driving, with no focus on more residential or urban driving requiring turning and intersections.

In July 2016, the company announced that they were partnering with Intel and Mobileye to develop self-driving car technology. It was also reported that BMW hopes to launch more fully autonomous cars in China in 2021.

For an article about BMW’s focus in developing autonomous driving technology, go to https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/13/self-driving-cars-bmw-google-2020-driving.

Ford

Ford, like Google, is taking a big approach to self-driving cars, aiming for completely autonomous vehicles. Ford is researching technology to take humans completely out of the driving equation, insisting as Google does that there is no safe way to hand control back to a human who is likely not paying attention in a semi-autonomous car. According to at least one article, Ford hopes to have this technology to the market within five years (http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/38914638-f1cf-11e5-9f20-c3a047354386.html#axzz48maoR2LX). By 2021, Ford hopes to be shipping cars with no steering wheels, brakes or gas pedals, but these cars may not be available for purchase by consumers until 2025.

In January 2016, Ford announced it was tripling its autonomous vehicle testing fleet, taking the fleet from just 10 cars to 30. These 30 Fusion Hybrid autonomous vehicles will be tested in California, Arizona, and Michigan, as Ford was approved to test autonomous cars on California public roads in 2016. Ford’s latest autonomous test vehicles will use sensors created by a company called Velodyne, named the Solid-State Hybrid Ultra PUCK Auto, which has a sensor range of 200 meters, making them longer-reaching than many other autonomous car sensors. You can read more about the technology on Ford’s website at https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2016/01/05/ford-tripling-autonomous-vehicle-development-fleet--accelerating.html. In addition, in August 2016 Ford and Baidu, a Chinese company, invested $150 million into Velodyne, a move that could eventually lower the price of autonomous driving technology across the board. According to one report, Ford hopes to begin testing its autonomous vehicles in Europe in 2017.

While working on its fully-autonomous car, Ford currently offers some semi-autonomous features on some of its models, such as parking assist and blind spot assist. According to reports, Ford hopes to have additional semi-autonomous features, including enhanced parking assist, wide-angle rearview camera, and a system to alert drivers to objects in their blindspots to market soon. Potentially the most interesting feature Ford is working on, Evasive Steering Assist, aims to take over the car when a driver swerves rapidly to avoid a collision, allowing the car to avoid collision but also to not swerve to the point of colliding with other obstacles.

Honda

While other carmakers have been aggressively pursuing self-driving technology for some time now, Honda has seemed to lag behind. Recently, however, Honda announced that it hopes to have vehicles on the market by 2020 that can engage in autonomous freeway driving. To read more about Honda’s entry into the self-driving race, you can visit http://www.autonews.com/article/20160605/OEM06/306069964/honda-merges-into-autonomous-traffic.

Currently, Honda offers several “driver-assistive technologies” under its Honda Sensing line. Some Honda vehicles can be equipped with a lane departure warning, which flashes and has a sound warning if you drift out of your lane; lane keeping assist, which can adjust the steering of your vehicle to help you stay centered in your lane; road departure mitigation, which alerts you if you are “drifting too close to the side of the detected roadway while driving 45-90 mph without a turn signal activated;” adaptive cruise control, which allows you to set a following interval; forward collision warning, which both warns you of imminent collisions and can activate the brakes; and collision mitigation braking system, which “can help bring your Honda to a stop when the system determines that a collision with a vehicle detected in front of you is unavoidable.” To read more about these features, visit http://automobiles.honda.com/sensing/.

Nissan

Nissan is working on its autonomous car prototype, but in a 2016 review one reporter did not seem extremely impressed with Nissan’s progress. The reporter noted that during a 30 minute ride, the driver had to take control of the car or nearly take control of the car six times, usually on very short notice. (To read the reporter’s account, go to http://www.recode.net/2016/1/12/11588668/riding-in-nissans-self-driving-car-is-still-a-white-knuckle-affair). While the technology still has a way to go, as of January 2016, Nissan had six autonomous prototype test cars – three located in Japan, and three in the United States.

While working towards a more fully autonomous car, Nissan is also adding semi-autonomous features and options to its fleet. Starting in 2016, Nissan will add a feature enabling a car to stay in its lane on a highway. The company projects to add autonomous multi-lane highway driving by 2018, followed by self-driving capabilities for intersections and city driving in 2020.

In June 2016, Nissan announced that it was considering including self-driving highway capabilities on most of its new models under the luxury arm of the company, Infiniti. Less than two weeks after that announcement, however, 60,000 Infiniti Q50 sedans were recalled due to issues in the self-driving steering software which were causing drivers to experience problems with steering the cars, including lack of steering responsiveness.

Toyota

Toyota was a late-comer to the self-driving car game (see http://www.wsj.com/articles/behind-toyotas-late-shift-into-self-driving-cars-1452649436). Now, however, they are working to develop self-driving technology and hoping to market cars with driverless highway capabilities by 2020.

After hiring a CEO for the Toyota Research Institute in September 2015, Toyota announced it would invest $1 billion in autonomous car research. They plan to open research centers in Palo Alto, CA; Cambridge, MA; and near the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus.

Although Toyota may have started researching fully autonomous options later than other companies, their current models already offer several semi-autonomous enhancements which will likely be used as Toyota moves toward more truly self-driving cars. Toyota calls these features the Toyota Safety Sense, and the available options include:

  • Pre-Collision System, which uses radar and a camera that scans the road in front of the car, looking for potential collision issues. When a coming collision is sensed, the system alerts the driver and the car automatically brakes;

  • Lane Departure Alert, which uses a camera to detect lane markings and alerts the driver if the car drifts out of its lane;

  • Pedestrian Detection, which uses radar and a camera to detect and warn drivers of nearby pedestrians, and engages the automatic braking system if the driver fails to react;

  • Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which adjusts your vehicles speed based on the speed of the car in front of you and helps to maintain a preset following distance.

You can read more details about the semi-autonomous features offered by Toyota on its website at http://www.toyota.com/safety-sense/.

In addition to developing self-driving car features, Toyota also appears to be interested in the ride-sharing market. In 2016, Toyota purchased the San-Francisco based ride-sharing service known as Getaround, and insiders speculate that this could be a way for Toyota to enter the driverless taxi market.

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