One of the reasons that automakers are pursuing self-driving cars is that, while they'll initially be too expensive for individuals to buy, ride-hailing services give the technology a chance to mature in a way that's financially viable. Aptiv, a tier-one supplier of autonomous technology, is working hard to make sure its system is in a lot of those vehicles, and at CES this year, it showed off how that system might actually work in conjunction with Lyft.
The cars (modified BMWs) were hailed through the Lyft app. Not the one on my phone, but one used by the team showing off the vehicles. Once it arrived in the staging area near the Las Vegas Convention Center, our driver drove it out of the parking lot on to the street and put it into autonomous mode with Caesars Palace as our destination.
During the trip, our car was cut off by two buses, a few cars and had to handle the sometimes erratic behavior of tourists mindlessly crossing the street. It handled all of this in a surprisingly calm fashion. There were no sudden and unnecessary brake maneuvers. Everything was as smooth as if a seasoned driver were behind the wheel. Certainly, it felt like an improvement over Aptiv's autonomous demo last year when the company was still called Delphi.
The specially equipped BMWs accomplished this by being outfitted with a ton of sensors. They each had nine LiDARs, 10 radars, a trifocal camera, vehicle-to-infrastructure data about stop lights and differential GPS (higher-quality GPS with increased location precision). Plus Aptiv mapped the roads around the destinations it was offering to riders.
The result of all that tech is that while there were set destinations, the cars didn't have to stay on a set route. As long as a road had been mapped, the car should have no problem getting somewhere and back autonomously (not counting parking lots).
Even with multiple potentials for collision, the robot Lyft performed as well as a human driver in an environment that can be less than ideal. But it's still just another step towards autonomous ride-hailing services becoming widespread. Aptiv expects its Level 4 driving suite to be available to OEMs and other partners in 2019 and believes that at least one of its customers will have it on the road in 2020. Even then, the rollout will be slow as regulations are put in place.
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