The race towards the fully automated car has only just begun. Car makers and their new potential competitors from the Tech industry have different views on the best approach for a driverless future.
While car OEMs like BMW or Daimler (and even newcomers like Tesla) are adding more and more driver assistance features such as lane-departure warning, brake assist, traffic jam assist, or parking pilot, in order to increase automation step by step over the next years, Tech industry companies like Google think of “leap-frogging” to as much automation as possible.
There are good reasons for both approaches. The classic step-by-step approach is very much in line with technology development and refinement, and with the slow moving other stakeholders such as governments and insurances. Ultimately a fully autonomous car would challenge the existing regulations and insurance schemes intensively, bringing up many unsolved issues of liability. What happens, for example, if a malfunctioning autonomous car hits a pedestrian? Driver or car maker liability?
The fully autonomous car, though, has the potential to be much safer than a car steered by a human, so naturally there is some incentive to go to as many automated functions as fast as possible. Especially as there are some indications that drivers in a only partly-automated car might be too slow to take over control in a situation that the partial automation cannot handle. As Chris Urmson, Head of Google’s Self Driving Car program, said in a recent article: “The better the technology gets, the less reliable the driver is going to get.”
Depending on the level of automation and intensity of alert, some drivers took an average of 17 seconds to respond to a takeover request and regain control of the vehicle, in a study just released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and supported by Google and several leading automakers and suppliers. In that time, a car traveling at 60 miles per hour would travel more than a quarter of a mile.
Automakers, Google take different roads to automated cars
There are many speculations in regards to technology champions such as Apple and Google and their potential interest in entering the automotive market. Entering the market not simply as technology provider for things such as Carplay or android Auto, but as a full-blown OE with their own “iCar”.
The German business journal manager magazin reported on an alleged visit of Apple CEO Tim Cook and some of his top management to BMW’s production plant in Leipzig, Germany. At this plant BMW is producing their electric vehicle BMW i3. According to the magazine, the talks between Apple and BMW have not led to a specific follow-up project though, and both parties aligned to stay in regular contact.
Der US-Konzern, bislang vor allem mit Computern und Mobiltelefonen erfolgreich, bereitet seit einiger Zeit Entwicklung und Bau eines iCars vor. Das Auto würde genau wie der i3 ein Elektroauto. Apple-Chef Tim Cook besichtigte deshalb während eines Besuchs bei BMW gemeinsam mit anderen Topmanagern die i3-Produktion in Leipzig.
UPDATE: Some more extensive coverage brought by Reuters, indicating that the talks ended due to different strategic considerations. “Apple appears to want to explore developing a passenger car on its own” vs. BMW “being cautious about sharing its manufacturing know-how because it wants to avoid becoming a mere supplier to a software or internet giant”.
“Two worlds are colliding here. Our world, focused on hardware and our experience in making complex products, and the world of information technology which is intruding more and more into our life.”