All You Need to Know About Self-Driving Cars from CES

Autonomous vehicle expert Brad Templeton looks under the hood of the biggest stories at CES 2016 in Las Vegas.

Photo Caption: Kia showed at CES 2016 its autonomous Soul EV, which is now licensed in Nevada, but had little to say about what it is doing. (Photo Credit: Brad Templeton)

The most silly demo in the parking lots came from a partnership of IAV, Microsoft and some others. In this demo, the car would drive a test course towards a light, where a pedestrian was waiting, hidden behind an SUV. The pedestrian’s Microsoft wristband is sending her GPS coordinates up to a server, which then sends them down to a traffic light. The traffic light was then able to use DSRC (V2V/V2I) to tell the car about the pedestrian, as well as the green/red state of the light.

In the demo, the car, upon learning this, would slow down as it passed the parked SUV. Seems reasonable at first, but even the demonstrators agreed that it’s not practical for cars to always slow every time a pedestrian is close to the street. In addition, the odds that people would be constantly uploading their location from wristbands or phones — even if GPS were accurate enough for this — are pretty low for years go come.

Here is an Engadget article on the demo.

Toyota’s billion dollar bet on AI
The strange concept cars seen here in the Toyota booth were not the real Toyota story at CES. Far more interesting is the creation of a new AI research lab inside Toyota with a $1 billion budget, run by Gill Pratt, who also ran the DARPA Robotics Challenge I reported on last year. That’s a huge budget, and will fund some pure research as well as researched aimed at driving.

New Quanergy Lidar announced
For full disclosure, I am on the advisory board in Quanergy and own stock, but I was pleased to see the announcement, ahead of schedule of Quanergy’s first solid state LIDAR, an 8 line phased-array LIDAR with a 120 degree field of view. While 8 planes is on the low end for self-driving, several of these LIDARS can be combined at this low price. The LIDAR will also help boost smaller robots indoors and out. Those who dismissed LIDAR as overly expensive have, as I have predicted made a mistake.

Quanergy has partnered with Delphi to market the LIDAR to automakers.

Delphi V2­Everything System
Speaking of Delphi, the company demonstrated its vehicle-to-everything (V2E) capabilities in its self-driving car, using advanced software and hardware to allow the vehicle to communicate with streets, signs, traffic lights, other cars and even pedestrians.

The V2E upgrades that Delphi will demo include:

Vehicle-to-vehicle: Delphi’s car can see all the cars in the immediate vicinity and can detect when an adjacent car abruptly decides to get into the same lane as the Delphi car.

Vehicle-to-pedestrian: Leveraging a special chip in a smart phone, the vehicle is alerted to pedestrians who are not paying attention to traffic as they use their phone.

Vehicle-to-traffic light: With Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), Delphi’s vehicle knows the status of traffic lights around Vegas and will anticipate yellow and red lights.

Blind Corners: Delphi’s vehicle manages for situations when streets intersect at strange angles that prevent the driver from seeing opposing traffic.

Ride Sharing: The driver’s friends and family can be notified of the driver’s location so that a ride can be requested.

New Velodyne and Valeo Lidars

Valeo at CES 2016. (Photo Credit: Brad Templeton)

Quanergy wasn’t the only LIDAR being promoted. Velodyne, which makes the expensive but powerful 64-laser LIDAR used in many research cars (including Google’s before they built their own) has a new unit that is the size of a large puck with 32 lasers. It’s going to be used in Ford’s new research cars, among others. Cost was not named, but will be under $10,000 - the current cost of Velodyne’s 16-laser LIDAR. It is claimed to be solid state, but no details are available on how it works.

Valeo is now in production on the $250 4-laser LIDAR based on designs from IBEO. They have branded it SCALA and while it will primarily be used in the ADAS market they are hoping for even more.

While not related to robocars, Valeo also showed off their Sightstream product, which replaces side-view mirrors with cameras and screens. Today, the regulations demand side-view mirrors - they are even on Google’s steering-wheel-free 3rd generation car - but they cause a lot of drag and get hit in accidents, so vendors have wanted to replace them with cameras for a while. Cameras are superior in a lot of ways, including not having any blindspots.

Volvo wants you to binge-watch TV in self-driving cars
Volvo revealed it is developing interruption-free media streaming capabilities with Ericsson to ensure self-driving car passengers can catch up on Catastrophe while traveling.

Using Ericsson’s network and cloud expertise, Volvo’s self-driving cars will predict how long the drive is and tailor your content to the duration of the trip. Volvo says the content can be “intelligently buffered to deliver a high quality and uninterrupted viewing experience.”

Nissan promises 10 models with autonomy
Nissan was not at CES, but their CEO held a press conference at Nissan’s research lab in Sunnyvale to divert some attention. He promised Nissan will put autonomous drive features into 10 different Nissan models, without naming them. Around 2018 expect autopilot functions (like you see in Tesla and others) and by 2020 expect some greater level of autonomy — possibly the standby supervision approach incorrectly called level 3 by NHTSA/SAE.

Nissan has been a leader in the Japanese market, but Toyota’s new AI efforts may push it ahead. Honda, Mazda and Subaru continue to show very little in the way of effort.

Nissan has made the statement that it does not want to embrace car-sharing like Uber, Lyft and robotaxis, but instead wants to focus on cars aimed at single owners. I judge that an error, but we’ll see.

Tesla car summon
You have to hand it to Elon Musk for Bravado, claiming that in 2 years he will have fully capable unmanned-level autonomy. Yesterday he said

“Within two years you’ll be able to summon your car from across the country, ” Musk said on Sunday in a teleconference with the media, adding that “ I might be slightly optimistic on that.” He went to to say you might be in New York and summon your Tesla from Los Angeles. I’m a big fan of this concept, which I have called the “whistlecar” but he is indeed a bit optimistic, if for no other reason that it almost surely won’t be legal to cross the country unmanned in 2 years.

Reaching the safety levels for unmanned operation on a wide array of streets in 2018 is also a big challenge, especially without a LIDAR. More on that, later.

Audi says little
Audi’s self-driving efforts have been quite significant, but all they said at CES was a reaffirmation of their commitment to self-driving systems without much concrete. Audi, which is part of VW, is reeling from the emissions scandal. Will customers trust them and their software?

BMW shows a concept

BMW at CES 2016. (Photo Credit: Brad Templeton)

BMW has long been one of the leaders among big car companies, in spite of the irony of them building the “ultimate non-driving machine.” This year they mostly went the imaginary concept route, displaying a futuristic car and claiming it had “3 modes” - manual, assisted and self-driving. But the car didn’t actually do those things and the only real demo was some self-parking outside. (Last year they had the BMW i3 cars available for test drive, and the cars rolled up for your test drive empty through a special course.)

Concept cars like this, meant only to express possible future ideas, are common at car shows, but at CES they seem bizarrely out of place. To the electronics crowd, they make no sense - they are vapourware at best, and pointless at the worst. Why show a product you never have any intention of building? The CES audience accepts (and likes) seeing pre-release products, but wants to know what BMW is actually doing.

Editor’s Note: This article was republished with permission from Brad Templeton’s Robocars Blog.

About the Author

Brad Templeton · Brad Templeton is a developer of and commentator on self-driving cars. He writes and researches the future of automated transportation at
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