Powerful computers that can drive better than people, high-definition road maps and low-cost sensors are about to remove some big barriers to self-driving cars.
Some breakthrough features will come to your dashboard quickly, while others will take a few years. But companies from Silicon Valley to Detroit will use the CES gadget show in Las Vegas to demonstrate that autonomous car technology is heading for prime time.
Legal and government policy issues remain, and computer controls haven't quite been perfected. Still, the companies say it's reasonable to expect cars to take over more driving tasks from humans on the way to full automation in about five years.
Details will come later, but here are five areas to be featured at the Las Vegas show:
THE SEEING CAR
Radar, camera sensors and a remote-sensing technology called Lidar will help cars see their surroundings and decide what actions to take. One of the more important announcements will come from Quanergy, which will unveil low-cost solid-state Lidar, or lasers, that can see 360 degrees regardless of weather. Announcements about sophisticated mapping also are expected, including one from Detroit-area car parts supplier Delphi.
A self-driving car needs technology that can make sense of the thousands of camera images and data from radar and Lidar. Companies such as Nvidia are working on artificial intelligence to decide how to handle the millions of situations a car will encounter. On Monday, the company unveiled a lunchbox-sized automotive supercomputer with the processing power of 150 MacBook laptops. The company says Volvo will be the first car-maker to work with the computers.
Today's luxury cars have about 50 computers and run more than 100 million lines of software code, more than a large passenger jet. But the wiring in cars is already strained and won't transfer data fast enough for advanced safety devices. Delphi will show off a new wiring architecture to handle 1000 times more information, so cars won't be obsolete as soon as they leave the dealer. The technology will come to Audi vehicles first this year and handle radar and cameras for automatic emergency braking. But it also can integrate Lidar.
When benevolent hackers took over a Jeep Cherokee through its radio last year, the car industry got nervous. At CES, parts maker Visteon is among companies that will show off infotainment systems that are better protected from hacking attacks.
LET THE CAR DO THE TALKING
It won't be long until the car can communicate with everything from a home thermostat to other cars and even the McDonald's drive through. Delphi is offering a phone cradle that lets the car transmit orders to a restaurant, while BMW and others will show off technology that controls home devices. There's also vehicle-to-vehicle technology coming. Visteon's will be able to communicate with cars ahead of you on a freeway to warn you of stopped traffic or hazards such as black ice