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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas over at Google, with the Mountain View-based search giant unveiling its first real build of its upcoming self-driving car, which will hit the roads of California next year.
The company has shown off previous builds of its self-driving car, but they weren't exactly production models. They were early mockups at best, with no real headlights - stickers in their place - and a huge exposed sensor on the roof. There are many more prototypes now, each testing out various functions of the self-driving car, with a more refined, real, and functional feel.
Google has said that it plans to put the car through various tests during the holiday season, and have it on the roads of Northern California in the New Year. This isn't the final product yet, as the company will continue to tinker and tinker until it gets it right.
Half of drivers tested by researchers from Wayne State University committed "lane excursions" into other lanes, while being instructed to text and drive with one hand on the steering wheel. However, it would appear older, more experienced drivers were more likely to drift into other lanes - as 100 percent of drivers from 45 to 59 years of age committed this driving error, with younger drivers doing better.
Eighty percent of drivers from their mid-thirties to mid-forties committed lane excursions, with that number dropping to 50 percent for drivers from 25 to 34 years of age. Just 25 percent of drivers from 18 to 24 years of age swerved while texting and driving, researchers noted, doing better than what many would assume.
"Generally, people believe that younger drivers are more easily distracted and therefore would be more susceptible to the dangers of texting and driving," said Randall Commissaris, one of the authors of the study. "However, our study - which included drivers ranging in age from 18 to 59 - demonstrated just the opposite. Although texting while driving had a negative impact on drivers of all ages, younger drivers were less distracted by texting, and older drivers' performance was much worse because of their texting."
BMW and Tesla both want to create new in-vehicle technologies that can be controlled using smartwatches, with unique features available to auto buyers. The BMW i3 would allow drivers to essentially park a vehicle using a smartwatch, using a mobile app paired with the Remote Valet Parking Assistant feature in the BMW. The app is able to guide vehicles into a parking spot on its own.
The BMW Remote Valet Parking Assistant uses active laser sensors that scan the immediate vicinity to verify the vehicle won't accidentally run into anything. However, there is a "possibility of entirely collision-free driving," indicating the system still isn't exactly full-proof.
Tesla's Model S already has built-in self-driving features so vehicles can park themselves, and incorporating these features in a smartwatch could prove extremely valuable.
The 2016 Cadillac CT6 will include a custom rearview mirror that provides high-resolution streaming video, so drivers can have an enhanced rearward vision. The camera will be located on the CT6's rear bumper and will be able to stream directly to the mirror, increasing the driver field of vision up to four times over just a regular rearview mirror, researchers say.
General Motors partnered with Gentex Corp for the mirror and Sharp for the HD camera and video processing technology. New vehicles have a large focus on infotainment and navigation features, but safety features are a major push forward for connected vehicles.
"The closest comparison to this kind of rear vision would be driving a convertible with the top down," said Travis Hester, Cadillac CT6 executive chief engineer, in a press statement.
Google wants to see its Android mobile operating system built directly into connected cars, hoping drivers and passengers are able to enjoy connectivity even before connecting their smartphones. If this occurs in 2015, it would be a major step beyond just the Google Android Auto software - and the first wave of vehicles should be available sometime in 2015.
Despite increased interest in connected vehicles, Google still has remained relatively quiet about its long-term Android plans in vehicles. However, Android M should have a major role in providing connected features to drivers. If everything goes according to Google's plan, Android will evolve into the major platform used to power infotainment and navigation for connected cars.
"It provides a much stronger foothold for Google to really be part of the vehicle rather than being an add-on," said Thilo Koslowski, VP and Automotive Practice Leader of Gartner, in a statement published by Reuters.
Automaker Ford recently introduced the Sync 3 communications and infotainment system for its newer vehicles. Microsoft's Windows Embedded helped create the software backbone for earlier generations of Sync, but Ford has chosen BlackBerry and its QNX operating system for the new Sync 3. Drivers and passengers of Ford vehicles released in 2015, starting with 2016 models, should notice better performance while using the Sync 3 system.
"Our focus on the Sync 3 system was to provide the best infotainment solution to the customer," said Alan Hall, Ford spokesperson, in a statement to the E-Commerce Times. "We listened to customers to meet their expectations and that's what led to these technology choices."
As newer vehicles begin to adopt more interactive infotainment systems, Ford - and other automakers - have been able to boost sales, as drivers blend newer features with smartphones, tablets, and built-in technologies.
German researchers are working on something called the Alcohol Language Corpus, which is a database that contains drunk speech patterns, which is the first of its kind.
In the United States, some states use the Ignition Interlock Device, but the Alcohol Language Corpus could add to the IID, amplifying its protection against drunk people getting into their cars, and driving them. The ALC technology would prevent a driver from driving their car if they sounded drunk.
Before the ALC can be pushed out for use in the real-world, there needs to be more languages built into its database. As it stands, it is filled with speech tidbits from 162 German-speaking males and females.
Audi is developing an electric vehicle that will be able to hold five passengers and travel up to 280 miles on a single charge, as the automaker takes aim at Tesla. It's unknown if the new EV will be based on current Audi models, or be a unique model designed specifically for the unique engine and battery. The vehicle is scheduled for release in 2017.
"Such a car is under development," confirmed Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi head of technical development. "I was able to engineer the R8 e-tron project and technology with the team and we are on the way to a range of 450 kilometers. Let's say that technology will also be carried over and is a trailer for another car with long range."
The Tesla S has a range up to 300 miles, easily outpacing other current electric vehicles, but Audi's efforts will give the San Francisco Bay Area automaker a true rival.
Toyota will begin testing its autonomous vehicles on open roads starting in December, using a system compromised of six laser radar devices mixed with higher-accuracy map data. The vehicle is able pass through electronic toll collection gates and main roads, while safely maintain its lane location.
"We will actively continue the development of autonomous driving technologies, but we are considering commercializing autonomous driving technologies that do not change the sovereignty of the driver," said Moritaka Yoshida, Toyota Chief Safety Technology Officer. "For Toyota, advanced driving assist technologies are for safety and realizing zero traffic deaths."
Last year, Toyota publicly showed its automated highway driving assist (AHDA) technology, with the ability for the car to automatically control gas and steering.
The United States military and automakers are stepping up their security protocols to ensure connected vehicles are safe from hackers - and even terrorism - as newer vehicles increase Internet connectivity. As the federal government wants vehicles to be able to send one another alerts of road hazards and traffic problems, trying to keep vehicles secure remains difficult.
No public reports have been released that hackers have been able to hack connected vehicles among public owners yet - but private tests have indicated there are major loopholes. For example, a group of cybersecurity researchers revealed they can create a solution that can unlock a vehicle's networks to be exploited.
As more American drivers purchase and drive vehicles with Internet functionality, the effort to ensure vehicles remain secure from outside influence will be a major effort for years to come.