(WXYZ) — AAA estimates that almost 1.5 million people will travel by car in Michigan over the Fourth of July Holiday. It can be a dangerous time on the roads. Last year in Michigan 17 people lost their lives in traffic crashes over the holiday. In the future, automakers hope to make such holidays much safer with autonomous driving technology. How close are we to that kind of freedom?
7 Action News Reporter Kim Russell went for a ride of the future.
We keep hearing announcements from automakers from Tesla to Ford about the release of vehicles with some autonomous capabilities. The new Electric F-150 Lightning for example offers what Ford calls “Blues Cruise”. It will use sensors to do some hands-free driving, with drivers still in the driver's seat. Humans are still required to drive. When will robots be in control of vehicles offered for sale to the masses?
“We are still a ways away from that,” said Greg McGuire, Mcity Associate Director.
Mcity is a unique test facility at the University of Michigan where the government, companies and the university are working together to develop autonomous vehicles. McGuire took 7 Action News for a ride in one of the facilities' test vehicles. It can handle crosswalks, traffic lights, and railroad crossings.
Robots drive them during tests, sometimes in a way that in the real world might inspire road rage, so researchers can see if other autonomous vehicles react safely. He says researchers are being thorough and there is still work to do before we can replace human drivers.
“I am glad that we are moving at a slightly slower pace so that the technologies we are inventing and the changes we are making in society can be thought about carefully before it is too late,” said McGuire.
“The research we have here at the Center for Automotive Research shows it is not going to be commonplace until maybe 2040,” said Carla Bailo, President & CEO of the Center for Automotive Research.
Bailo says that automakers are still working on how to expand vehicle abilities to communicate so robot drivers can make good decisions. There are fully digitized areas where some vehicles drive autonomously, but not freely on just any road. The expansion of 5G might make it possible. Or it might be too slow.
“5G is just rolling out. Quite frankly, we don’t know what kind of latency is going to exist. We think it should be fine,” said Bailo.
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Hackers have made headlines in recent weeks as they used ransomware to attack meat and gas companies. Just this week, the Center for Automotive Research held an event to talk about the need to make sure connected vehicles have cybersecurity now and in the future. Fully autonomous vehicles may require more cyber connections which raises questions about safety and theft.
“If it is on your phone, it is connected to maybe your bank accounts that are on your phone. So think about what you are connecting with your vehicle and how these things are intertwined. Because anytime they are intertwined, one leak could come all the way through,” said Bailo.
At Mcity, researchers are making progress while challenges ranging from public policy to insurance are worked out.
McGuire says the goal is to use research done there to create technology that will not just allow cars to drive themselves anywhere but will enable them to drive safer than humans. He says eventually we will be at that point, but we are not there yet.
“I know we pan our fellow driver on the road, but humans it turns out are really good at driving cars,” said McGuire.