Automakers battle for high-tech dominance on the road to self-driving car

Sun Nov 15, 2015 4:18pm EST
 
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By Naomi Tajitsu and Paul Ingrassia

TOKYO/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - At the recent Frankfurt Auto Show, Ford Motor Co unveiled a new feature that lets drivers pre-set their car to go at or just above the speed limit. In-car cameras and software read and react to road signs, speeding the car up or slowing it down.

Active Speed Limiter is available on select models in Europe, but not, ironically, in the United States, Ford's home country, where road signs come in different shapes and sizes, and are often obscured by shrubbery.

So it goes on the road to the self-driving, or autonomous, car - a journey of, well, stops and starts that most experts say will take a couple decades to complete.

Meantime, advances in "semi-autonomy" - features that help handle tricky or tiresome driving situations but still require a driver's oversight - have sparked a high-tech automotive arms race, with car companies vying to launch the most advanced features.

Automakers hope semi-autonomous features will, over time, help drivers and regulators get over fears of riding in vehicles that accelerate, steer and stop themselves, making potentially life-or-death judgments.

Shorter term, car companies want these features to make driving more convenient - and cars more profitable.

"People like features that make driving easier, safer and more fun," says Joseph Vitale Jr., who heads global automotive consulting for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. "The question is what customers will pay for them."

Ford's Active Speed Limiter comes at 560 euros ($602.78), and it's too soon to tell how popular it will be.   Continued...

 
Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, presents the Nissan IDS concept car at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo, in this October 28, 2015  file photo.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Files