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As more automakers begin to test autonomous vehicles, there is a strong demand for software that helps self-driving vehicles make decisions. It's a complicated issue to deal with, as test vehicles sometimes need more than 10 times the amount of software used in commercial aircraft and military fighter jets.
"Cars need much more software than aircraft. The environment in the air is easier, there are no obstacles and they are driven by professional pilots," said Eric Feron, professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech, in a statement published by Reuters. "It is much more complicated on the ground."
German automakers are struggling because current laws restrict vehicle testing on public roads, which is important for data collection. There is concern that Google and US companies will be able to have an advantage in autonomous vehicle software development.
The Delphi Automotive autonomous vehicle successfully completed a trip from San Francisco to New York, marking the longest autonomous vehicle campaign. The vehicle used was a customized Audi SQ5 SUV, and was first unveiled during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.
The vehicle uses six long-range radars, three vision-based cameras, four short-range radars, six lidars, and customized software algorithms working to help the vehicle navigate itself. Engineers hope to use data collected during the 3,500-mile journey to help refine its efforts, while setting future goals for autonomous technology.
"The car actually handled extremely well," said Wayne Cunningham, car tech editor of CNET, after getting the chance to drive the vehicle. "When it saw other cars around, it slowed down. It was following the lane lines too."
Automakers must find ways to cater to increasingly connected drivers and passengers, with Ford saying it is trying to accommodate fitness bands, smartwatches, and other wearables in new vehicles. As more Things connect to the Internet of Things (IoT), connectivity will be expected in newer vehicles that interest auto buyers.
"Now the car is becoming the ultimate technology product, and we are becoming more of an information company," said Mark Fields, CEO of Ford, in a statement to CIO Journal. It's true that vehicles are becoming rolling Internet and tech machines - needing to cater to increasingly connected drivers and passengers.
All collected data will be encrypted and shared when owners authorize it - so Ford Sync can inform drivers if blood glucose levels are dropping, or to share data with physicians. It seems like rather obscure data for a vehicle to monitor, but Ford wants to make health and wellness even more accessible to drivers.
Hyundai joins the list of automakers looking to create self-driving vehicles in the near future, hoping to put a vehicle on the road starting from 2020. Company officials publicly announced the plans during a public demonstration in Songdo, South Korea, saying its self-driving efforts will start "in phases."
Hyundai already has a "traffic jam assist system" that is able to detect and track other vehicles and the surrounding environment. It's a piece of the puzzle for Hyundai as the company looks for new opportunities to improve driver safety.
Google, Apple, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and other companies all have current autonomous vehicle plans in place.
Automakers are embracing technology in vehicles, while creating lucrative partnerships with tech companies in Silicon Valley. Companies are interested in manufacturing smarter vehicles, and traditional auto companies don't want to be caught out in the emerging trend.
Software reportedly accounts for up to 25 percent of vehicle manufacturing now, according to the IHS Automotive industry researcher - and automakers are adding connected features at a fast pace.
"What happened with the mobile industry with the smartphone is about to happen with the car," said Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of NVIDIA. "Your car is going to be one delightful computer rolling down the street."
Tesla is going to unveil a new product line on April 30, and it won't be a new car. Earlier in the year, Tesla CTO JB Straubel promised an upcoming event that would likely focus on a battery able to power a home or business. Straubel also said the product would likely be in production within six months.
Musk outlined details of the event via Twitter:
Major new Tesla product line -- not a car -- will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thurs 8pm, April 30- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2015
Valeo, a well-known French automotive parts manufacturer, is utilizing technology from defense contractor Safran, in an effort to provide self-driving vehicle software technology by 2020. Valeo wants to provide carmakers with applications in the next three years, as autonomous vehicles are on the horizon.
Both companies fitted a Volkswagen CC for a live demonstration, and the vehicle was equipped with radar, lidar and camera systems - able to adapt to slow-moving and stopped vehicles, live traffic lights, and posted speed limits.
"We realized very quickly that we had much more in common than we'd expected," said Guillaume Devauchelle, innovation chief for Valeo, in a statement to Reuters. "It turns out than an autonomous vehicle is really a terrestrial drone."
Autonomous vehicles appear to be on the horizon in the United States, but one-third of drivers say they would never purchase a self-driving car, according to a recent Harris Poll.
In addition, more than one third of respondents believe autonomous vehicles might actually be the future of driving, and one quarter think the self-driving cars mimic something out of the Jetsons. Drivers can't seem to agree how safe autonomous vehicles are, with 52 percent revealing they think they are dangerous, while 48 percent believe it's safe for vehicle occupants.
Looking ahead, automakers will be able to sell autonomous vehicles when they work out the "bugs" involved, though one-third of drivers said they would never consider purchasing a self-driving car.
The newest version of the Ford S-Max vehicle has an intelligent speed limiter that is able to read traffic signs and adjust the throttle. Using a custom traffic sign recognition system, the brake pedal doesn't need to be used to slow down the vehicle - with electronic signals sent to control engine torque.
The Ford S-Max will be available this August, and should be implemented in Ford vehicles worldwide. Drivers can adjust the system so they are able to drive up to 5 mph over the speed limit.
"There's a plan for speed restrictions to be beamed to your car's computer systems and controlled from there, rather than requiring street sign visual recognition systems," said Paul Newton, automotive industry analyst at IHS, in a statement published by BBC. "This would be part of an extension of the networks that will connect vehicles, allowing cars to warn those behind them if they are slowing down, which is all part of a move toward autonomous vehicles that drive themselves."
The next generation of mass-market electric cars will have at least double the driving range of today's vehicles, aiming for at least 200 miles between charges. Tesla is currently the front runner, but Ford, Nissan, Volkswagen and General Motors all want to race past 200 miles on a single charge.
The $81,000 Tesla Model S can reach 265 miles on a single charge, but the $81,000 vehicle is clearly out of range for most drivers. Competing vehicles can get anywhere from 75 to 85 miles on a single charge, and it looks like auto buyers suffer from range anxiety. Just 0.4 percent of new vehicles sold in 2014 were electric vehicles, amounting to 67,700 of the 16.5 million new cars and trucks.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk believes the "sweet spot" for range threshold is somewhere around 250 to 350 miles, and 200 miles is still the minimum threshold.