Living in the Silicon Valley, I often see autonomous cars driving around. Some large car and tech companies have even set up shop here, making this area their home base for research of autonomous vehicles.
The thing I always wondered is, why in the world would I need a self driving car? I have driven cars with lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning and braking, so I understand it’s just a matter of time to have these systems improve even further. But are we really going to have computers do everything for us? What will happen to the thrill and fun experience of driving a car yourself? We were about to find out thanks to a new Kia autonomous vehicle that is being worked on.
California Proving Ground in California City, CA
Earlier this month Korean car manufacturer Kia invited us to their Proving Ground, which is hidden somewhere between cactuses and lots of sand in the Mojave desert in California.
Kia has come a long way. Just look around on the freeway when you see Kia cars that are about a decade old and ones that have been released in the last few years. Their design, in- and outside, are done very well and the driving experience is impressive too. The price to quality ratio of their cars has blown me away several times. Now we were in the desert, staring at a Kia autonomous vehicle in the form of a Soul EV.
One of Kia’s engineers started tapping on this Apple Watch and it came driving towards us, all by itself, from a nearby parking space. You would think it’d be crazy to just hop in and have the Kia autonomous vehicle drive us around, but that’s exactly what we did and at no time did I feel unsafe.
Kia Autonomous Vehicle Test Drive (Ride)
Actually, especially after experiencing a reckless Uber driver the day before, I really felt that this, the whole autonomous car thing, could actually make sense. Someone jumped in front of the car and it stopped just in time, saving the man’s life. It recognized stop signs and traffic lights too. It made smooth turns and accelerated and merged perfectly on to the freeway. There, we got up 74 mph. Cars were all around us, abruptly cutting us off, and lanes were closed off. The car recognized all of that and reacted appropriately.
At one point the Kia engineer, sitting behind the steering wheel and not touching anything, had a funny moment and said, “I’m going to die now.” Yes, that’s exactly what he said. So he closed his eyes and put his head on his right shoulder and pretended he had a heart attack. Remember that we were driving at a high speed. The blinker went on, the car started to slow down, and then, taking one lane at a time, drove to the shoulder. The Kia autonomous vehicle had already made a distress call so an emergency vehicle soon parked in front of us and our car followed it back to where we first started.
By that time the engineer had regained consciousness (even though he was pretending the whole time). So we left the car, the engineer once again tapped his watch. After which, the car drove off, searched for an empty parking spot, and parked itself.
Autonomous Vehicles — Still More Work to Be Done
Besides all the additional safety autonomous cars offer, why do I think this is something to look forward to? The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the busiest commutes in the country. I would love to see a system that can make that experience more efficient. Just think how great it would be to have a computer decide that you should not all drive at the same speed, right next to each other (hate it when people do that and block all the lanes). It would definitely improve the traffic flow.
There are still many things to iron out. Other than perfecting technical issues, there are some tricky legal and ethical matters to deal with. Who is responsible when the car is in an accident? What if the car is forced to hit either an elderly person or a young child? Who does it pick and why? That last one reminds me of the movie “I, Robot” in which actor Will Smith plays a technophobic cop where a robot chooses to save his live instead of someone else’s because of an algorithm. There are more awkward situations of course. I am glad, though, programming such things isn’t my job.
Kia has done an amazing job so far on its Kia autonomous vehicle, proving it’s a brand which I should keep an eye on for many years to come. Speaking of which, the company announced that the first autonomous features would be publicly available in 2020 and their cars would be fully autonomous by 2030. As most dads understand, that’s probably when I’ll let my daughter do her driving test.
Kia Drive Wise Announced at CES 2016
Kia made an official announcement at the CES 2016 press conference regarding its Kia autonomous vehicle program. It was stated that research and development are currently underway. The core technologies are still in the initial stage. More advanced sensors, communication between vehicles, and real-time control are all being worked on. This autonomous vehicle program from Kia has been named Drive Wise.
Kia is working to standardize electrical layouts according to size and class to offer the technologies at more affordable prices. If the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) have an integrated controller, this will reduce costss and make mass production possible. New ways of fusing the sensors into the vehicle are being explored as well. So keep an ear out for more updates about this.
Would you be interested in an automated vehicle from Kia?
I was invited on a media event for which the lodging, travel, and food was provided. All opinions are my own.