By on January 4, 2013

When the 2013 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opens its doors in Las Vegas, Nev, on January 8, there will be a few cars on display. And not just to show off entertainment systems. At least two carmakers will demonstrate self-driving cars: Toyota and Audi.

Toyota teased its autonomous Lexus AASRV, a.k.a. Adavanced Active Safety Research Vehicle with a 5 second clip on YouTube.  It is a Lexus LS 600h, outfitted with gadgetry that looks like what Google has been driving around for a while. In a press advisory, Toyota promises the car, and insights into Toyota’s “Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) research and development.”

I had a look at parts of Toyota’s ITS two months ago at the tech center in Higashifuji, but there was no Lexus 600 with a big RADAR dome on top.

Audi told the Wall Street Journal that it will be showing a car with autonomous vehicle capabilities at the Las Vegas show.

Other carmakers are in advanced stages of autonomous vehicle research. Ford is known to be working on the technology. An autonomous Mercedes and an autonomous Volkswagen have been driving around Berlin for more than a year.  The technology appears to be exiting the Google phase and could be going mainstream soon.

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37 Comments on “Real Self Driving Cars Are Nearer...”

  • avatar

    Even though I am a blazing car-driving enthusiast, even in my old age, I also realize that we have no good public transportation in this country. And the octogenarians (and nano-genarians?) do need to drive. Well, they often are not capable enough to do so safely. Ask the DMV in Florida about the accident rate there.

    So, ironically, I am fully in favor of self driving vehicles as a way for America to make up for its lack of realistic rail transportation, while still preserving individual freedoms and flexibility to which we are all accustomed.

    As long as no one demands that I “drive”/ride one while unwrapping my cold dying hands from the steering wheel of my sports car(s)!


  • avatar

    The simple fact of life here in the US is that many people have to drive who do not want to. While on the road, they are doing all sorts of things not conducive to piloting a vehicle safely (reading, typing, eating, make-up, make-up sex, etc.). So as someone who loves to drive, I too welcome our self-driving overlords.

  • avatar

    I am OK with self driving cars, as long as they don’t keep me from being able to ride my motorcycle, and they are calibrated to account for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

    Removing the driver from the equation opens a lot of things up. Car share programs would get a big boost- the cars could just drive from user to user, and algorithms could be derived to maximize the efficiency of the sharing. Commuters could carpool based on algorithms again and save a ton. Traffic jams would dwindle in # significantly- less accidents, less rubbernecking. No more left lane campers!!! Coordination with traffic lights and intersections. The list goes on and on.

    Theres a legit concern about a further atrophying of driving skills, but I put that like this. I haven’t owned a car in over 3 years (though I have had a motorcycle for 1), and last year I went to Italy for my honeymoon and rented a Fiat Panda. We were everywhere from the Tuscan mountains to city streets. Some of the driving was pretty treacherous, and it was stickshift. I did fine though. I think with regular driving skill validations people will be better drivers and have no problem taking over in the event of system failure- which, lets be honest, will probably never happen barring some widespread security breach.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    “An autonomous Mercedes and an autonomous Volkswagen have been driving around Berlin for more than a year.”

    What, like the Flying Dutchman?

  • avatar

    Fully autonomous vehicle technology won’t be happening anytime soon. Maybe in the form of a sophisticated cruise control or some sort of driver assistance technology. Full autonomy is at least a decade away – and that’s probably optimistic.

    A good report to read is it the KPMG report on autonomous vehicle technology. It discusses some of the limitations, but not everything. In fact, there’s one very glaring issue they missed in their discussion about one of the sensor technologies.

    Pay particular attention to Section 2 (a) Perception of the external environment. That’s a huge, huge issue. If we can crack that one, we’ll probably eliminate a lot of jobs now performed by humans in the process. Before the technology makes it into a car, you can bet it will find it’s way into factories, labs, offices, and homes first. Those controlled environment applications are a safer place to test the technology than in a multi-ton vehicle traveling at high speed.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s curious and a bit surprising that the KPMG report is so pessimistic of how far we can go with sensor-based technologies, given how much Google and others have already accomplished with the technology. Infrastructure-based and V2V-based visions of self-driving over the past half century have all foundered on the prohibitive cost (and time delay) of retrofitting existing infrastructure and on the impossibility of universal adoption (your V2V systems aren’t going to “see” that goofy looking dude in front of you in his ’64 Corvair). At least from a 2013 perspective, putting the self-driving technology in the CAR, not the road or in other surroundings (including other cars), has been the critical breakthrough that not only made a self-driving car possible, but also opened up a pathway for autonomous and human-driven cars to coexist on the same roads and streets, which is pretty much a necessity unless through some miracle the government somehow suddenly acquires the resources to buy everyone an autonomous car at once and the power to force everyone to use them.

  • avatar

    Whenever it is that they’re widely adopted, I wonder what impact self-driving cars will have on insurance rates for those who choose to continue driving autonomously? In other words, could the day come when we want to continue driving, but we can’t afford it?

  • avatar

    I’m as red-blooded a car enthusiast as you will ever find and I can’t WAIT to buy a self-driving car. I am more than happy to leave the driving to the auto-pilot for all those uber-boring Interstate highway runs.

  • avatar

    Let it happen but don’t expect a big safety bonus right away.
    Clearly only new and upscale cars will have this at first. I daresay people who can buy those are already some of the safer drivers (all due exceptions to elderly and imbeciles).

    How will this address the 15-year old, bald-tired minivans cutting in & out of lanes while the 300 lb. texting driver smears Taco Bell innards on the steering wheel…?

    I don’t see any way of avoiding a permanent driving underclass that renders null any macro gains from this technology.

  • avatar

    So do GM’s just-recalled vehicles that may self-roll away count? ;)

  • avatar


    #1 The states can’t sue a robot in court which means they’ll lose millions in revenue from tickets. Robots can’t get ticketed.

    #2 Artificial Intelligence is required WHICH DOESN’T EXIST YET. Sensors work fine on a course without the unpredictability of traffic conditions, but in reality, traffic is far more dynamic than this.

    #3 Driverless cars would put millions of taxi drivers out of work. The unions will NEVER let it happen.

    #4 These technologies required only exist in sci-fi movies depicting communist utopias. In REALITY, they can’t even field a widely popular electric car yet because of technological shortcomings. The Tesla Model S is a great car, but most people don’t have $55,000 for a car that can only go 160 miles before needing a charge. They promised us flying cars 50 years ago!!!

    At the very least, driverless cars will be limited to a few ultra rich people.

    • 0 avatar

      1. Already solved, ticket the owner, been done for years.
      2. Once again, you are years behind. It’s close to done now.
      3. Taxi driver unions aren’t exactly the UAW which is now based in a RTW state.
      4. SciFi and on the roads today with human supervisors that are just taking notes.

      Never is a lot longer than a few years. Not a great prediction on your part. I think your wishes are getting in the way of your analysis.

    • 0 avatar

      bigtruckseriesreview @ Youtube…

      Big rule in life: Never say “Never”. (^_^)…

      Yes, I agree that there may be issues with inclement weather (e.g., night with fog or drizzle) and snow on the road (e.g., lanes? what lanes?). And the “driver” is still legally responsible for his vehicle. Taxi drivers may enjoy the ride, along with the passenger.

      But I do expect that manual override will be essential, and that the car itself would let you know when it fails to get proper sensor input, as in “help!”. It also may be that these vehicles may be most successful in southern CA, AZ, or FL, at least initially.

      My career involved image analysis, and I would recommend that you don’t worry about white-line recognition and computerization. That’s not the issue: the more subtle, judgment stuff IS the issue; and you can’t have the car coming to a stop every 100 feet just because it “feels uncomfortable” with bad weather or marginal visibility, radar or no radar.

      So, it’s not as though it can’t be done in 5 years: it can, but not universally under all conditions, in my view.


      • 0 avatar

        Driving takes INTELLIGENCE. In this case, you’d need ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. It’s not gonna happen.

        Did this guy say “the cab driver would be along for the ride”???


        So you actually think the cab company will pay someone to “SIT” in a driverless car?


        Driverless cars will happen the day after flying cars – which will happen THE DAY AFTER America balances its budget and reduces the national debt to less than $1 Trillion dollars.

      • 0 avatar

        You dont need much AI, what we have now is probably enough.. when the AI gets worried it just phones home and a live person takes over.. probably located in India if they can beat the communications roundtrip delay issues.. much like modern day drones in Afghanistan are controlled from a base in Ohio. Think 50% cheaper taxis

      • 0 avatar

        “But I do expect that manual override will be essential, and that the car itself would let you know when it fails to get proper sensor input, as in “help!”.”

        It’s just a glorified cruise control then. If it chokes when the going gets tough then the appeal is greatly diminished IMO. I also can’t imagine good results when the car falls out of its autopilot and the 89 year old driver has to take over.

        People have dreams of robot cars where they can sleep or read a book while they are jetted around at 100MPH. I just don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

      • 0 avatar

        @big trucks, I have no idea what cave in Afghanistan you’ve been hanging out in but let’s catch up on the last 30 years in automobiles not designed in Moscow.

        Benz has been at this since the 1980s. Others have been since the 00s.

        The Google cars have already logged 300K miles without incident.

        You should learn what the AI required to drive a car actually is – PROTIP: It’s done. It’s currently being shrunk, cheapened, and optimized. Once again, IT”S ALREADY DONE. Take a tech class, basic electronics, computer science, read some automotive industry news, something.

        Union taxi drivers? Where? NYC? France?

        The DARPA grand challenge was won in 2006. That’s over 6.5 years ago.

        Lawsuits and liability are already written into law in 3 States.

        If you think this is “utopian sci-fi” beyond what we have already proven we can do, please use your computer to look at something informative. It’s already HERE. It will do nothing but become more prevalent.

        BTW, If you are actually reviewing Class 8 trucks, you might be interested to learn that the manufacturers are often owned by guys like Mercedes Benz. And they are all working on integrating self guided systems just like the cars.

      • 0 avatar

        “Driving takes INTELLIGENCE”

        Counterexample, Los Angeles.

        In the abstract, all a driver less car need to do, is perform better than the single worst driver on the planet. Then, replacing that particular drunk octogenarian’s steering wheel with a robot, is a net win.

        As the robots get better, which they will do, more and more drivers will be better off replaced.

        Interestingly, it used to be considered a bit of a truism that piloting war planes required at least something resembling intelligence. Yet more and more missions are currently being handed off to drones. not all as of yet, but more and more. Drone car rollout will progress similarly.

      • 0 avatar

        #1 PILOTING WARPLANES takes plenty of intelligence. The reason we have yet to see (or hear from our secretive government) of incidents is that:

        a) we are shooting and dropping bombs on poorly armed brown countries without any defense systems whatsoever. A robot doesn’t have to be sophisticated to execute programs such as “shoot the guy there” or “fire predator drone Hellfire rocket at this crowd”.

        Since when has a robot got into a “dogfight” with Taliban fighters?

        b) SPACE and the SKY are vastly open and unpopulated. Totally unlike city streets. I’ve yet to hear of a blind person or baby getting hit by an airplane. Air-to-air collisions are very rare. Car accidents happen every second because of the law of averages. The average number of cars on the road is hundreds of times higher than the number of airplanes within a mile of another.

        IN FAIRNESS – I think a robot would be a better pilot than a human because it can withstand more G-forces and requires less support equipment. Thing is, when something goes wrong with a robot, it can’t always help itself. Case in point: the Iranians TRICKED OUR OWN GODDAMNED DRONE TO LAND IN ITS BACKYARD.

        How do you know someone won’t come up with a program to hack driverless cars into helping him kidnap women???

        Driving DOES TAKE IMMENSE LEVELS OF INTELLIGENCE. When people are not PROPERLY DRIVING the system breaks down and we have accidents. thing is, when those accidents cause injuries, fatalities, etc, we can hold people accountable. My S550 got hit in the bumper by some moron texting. No problem… I had my insurance company fix my car and I got my money from him. No insurance company is going to take a chance on driverless cars until the technology can be proven to be far less risky than human drivers. That’s not going to happen till you have HAL 9000 or EDI driving – and EVEN THEY tried to KILL their own human masters.


  • avatar
    el scotto

    Will the self-drive kick in like cruise control? Where/when will a human engage/disengage? I think personal injury lawyers will define a lot of things about self-driving cars. Big companies have deep pockets.

  • avatar

    Robot cars before robot girlfriends or ED-209 battle mechs?

    Science needs to get its priorities in order.

  • avatar

    Can’t happen soon enough. The faster we can get the 80% of the mouth breathing public who would rather eat/read/txt/talk than drive out the equation the better.

    • 0 avatar

      But even if the tech were available right now and cheap as floormats, it still requires the purchase of a new vehicle, something much of that 80% can’t do unless subsidized.

  • avatar

    I think the progress on this is fantastic !
    I can’t help but think of the efficiency improvements. It always fascinates me when visiting a big city and driving the freeways. Someone touches their brakes, and the effect ripples back. Driving the 401 in Toronto in rush hour was like watching waves of stopped vehicles in reverse direction. I expect automated driving on the freeways would increase the capacity significantly. So the push to incorporate this technology will come from gov’t, as it would reduce the massive capital spending (and concurrent bitching from the NIMBY crowd) required for a new freeway.
    I would be surprised if whatever technology is adopted doesn’t require some type of road sensor – for instance a magnetic device in the road markings. But who knows – I’ve been surprised before.
    Heck, I’d be thrilled if they could just come up with a decent collision avoidance system to avoid deer and moose. If we could only breed them to have high visibility markings…

  • avatar

    Back where I live, legislators are just itching to regulate self-driving cars to oblivion. There’s been hints of ID scanners and mandatory breathalyzer tests to even start the cars, cameras making sure the driver watches the road all the time, special taxes and all kinds of fun stuff like that. In addition to that, we have snowy roads, which might cause some problems for self-driving systems.

    It’s going to be an uphill battle against the government folks.

  • avatar

    I don’t think most self driving car advocates are thinking things through. Its going to be a TERRIBLE AWFUL transitions – when our roads are literally FLOODED with TONS of self driving cars.

    How many people are too tired or too scared or just don’t feel like driving? How about almost everyone – and all those people will get self driving cars. This country can’t take it – we don’t have the transportation system.

    In the short term traffic will double or triple to LA like levels across the world. Improvement would come from the OPPOSITE Of self driving cars. Make everyone who wants to drive drive a stick – and our traffic problems would dry up – and the accident rate would go down.
    (Not that I think this could actually happen).

    • 0 avatar

      I think you are on to something, but I don’t think the increase will be mostly from the scared and uncomfortable drivers. That will be a marginal gain. People will be even more willing to live farther from work and will grow the exurbs. Fuel mileage will increase drastically as you won’t see as many people demanding performance for the robot driver’s pleasure. Comfort will be key. In the past, reduction in cost per mile in real dollars seems to increase miles driven and likely will do so again.

      The solution? Government will simply tax the hell out of cars, fuel, and everything.

      • 0 avatar

        Long term – self driving cars will be mandated and human powered driving will be outlawed. This is because cars can be linked and will funciton like bits on a computer network. This is more efficent then even the best human driver..

        But its the short term I am talking about. All the people that are cheering because they don’t have to drive anymore and don’t like waiting in traffic or living close to their work. THESE people are going to buy up self driving non-networked cars and just FLOOD the roads in ways that people now don’t even seem to be able to imagines.

        During this 10 year transition its going to be hell on earth.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, bigtrucks says it won’t happen, you say apocalypse and I say big changes and government intrusion.

        I guess we’ll know in a decade. :)

  • avatar

    2019 Lexus LS 600h XF50 & 2020 Prius 5 XW50?

  • avatar

    Self driving cars would at best be a niche for the rich on limited, designated roadways, if that, and at extremely high cost. Those who think of the legal issues being limited to whom to ticket have never talked to a lawyer – the legal angles are limitless, and the lawyers (including insurance company lawyers) indefatigable in exploring those angles. As a former state highway engineer, I’ve seen lots of engineering tech issues take a back seat to the legal issues involved.

    Jack Nicholson of multiple fender-bender fame (plus acting) got into so many scrapes, including once fending off an irate other driver with a golf club (a seven-iron), that his agent figured that between car repair, insurance and lawsuits, it was cheaper to hire a driver. Now he’s chauffeured everywhere. THAT’S the more likely way it’ll go, if you have a net worth of $400 million.

    For the rest of us, it will be like flying cars, a promise unfulfilled. It doesn’t matter if it’s technically feasible, the legal, economic and especially political aspects of the application will be controlling. The car companies are in the game for the possible tech breakthroughs, like accident avoidance technology, that will go into future cars.

  • avatar

    I’m not getting the pessimism here. We are already 50% of the way there with cars that you can buy today, assuming you can afford a $50-100K luxury sedan. Radar cruise control and lane “guidance” are realities NOW. Going from there to fully self-driving, at least on the highway is a fairly small step. And that is what I expect to see first – Interstate cruise control on steroids. It will probably be a fairly long time before we have fully robotic cars, but a car that can drive itself 250 miles on the Interstate in good conditions is right around the corner.

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