This week I attended the largest consumer electronics trade show on the planet, CES 2018 in Las Vegas.
As one of the 180,000 people who attended this year it can be incredibly daunting, like staring at a mountain you need to climb. However, CES is so big that it is like having to climb three mountains as the show has so many halls with so many companies introducing and showcasing cool stuff it is hard to keep up, let alone see everything.
One of the things that interested me most was the state of self-driving cars. Last year at CES, autonomous vehicles made a huge splash with companies claiming some cars would be available as soon as 2020. Throughout 2017 we saw companies from Google to Daimler to Apple to numerous automotive startups showcase how self-driving cars would in fact be able to handle roads and various weather conditions.
Prior to CES, Clarion invited me to see their latest technology including advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), infotainment and, yes, self-driving tech. So naturally I agreed to check it out.
At the show, I was treated to seeing some of the latest automotive tech Clarion is working on including cool ADAS tech that helps drivers stay awake when they are starting to doze on the road and a new autonomous parking technology that is in the development phase at the company. This plays an important part in the actual car demo I would eventually receive.
After seeing different parts of Clarion’s autonomous driving technology it was time to see it in action on a rainy CES day in the North parking lot. First, Clarion showed off how autonomous parking programs could be established where the car reacts to other vehicles in a parking lot and automatically finds an open spot (see the video).
This would work as an automated valet where the self-driving cars are connected to each other and have the area mapped so sensors are able to locate and direct an autonomous car to an open spot. Later, using a smartphone app, a driver would summon the car out of the parking spot and to the driver. Similar to a regular valet but done entirely autonomously.
Then the time arrived to actually ride in Clarion’s decked out self-driving car in the parking lot. They wouldn’t let me film it but here’s what happened.
I climbed into a modern sedan in the back seat accompanied by the marketing manager I was assigned to. He talked me through what was about to happen. Another Clarion employee was in the driver’s seat and took the car in a preformatted path in the parking lot which was set up to mimic either a home driveway or a narrow parking structure where the technology would be applicable. On the first loop, the driver was in control while the software mapped the area. On the second loop, hands came off the wheel and the driver simply held down a button while the car navigated the same path autonomously following the path already laid out by the driver.
It was a surreal experience. After seeing numerous videos of cars driving themselves, I was actually living it and seeing how a car can indeed drive itself from one end of a parking lot to the next and through a pathway that was not easy to navigate as Clarion had set up artificial walls to function like a normal environment.
The car then parked itself in an area where another car was parked and a super-close wall was on the other side. Using an app, the driver then pulled the car out of the artificial parking spot autonomously so we could exit the vehicle.
While this is technically Level 2 autonomy (holding a button down instead of the car just doing it automatically; if the button were released the driver would regain control), it shows just how far the technology has come in a year. We are already at a point where basic levels of autonomy are becoming a reality and could be part of our lives a lot sooner than maybe people were anticipating. Clarion says it is already working with implementing its autonomous parking technology with some automotive OEMs.
How did I feel about a car driving itself? I wasn’t worried so much maybe because the driver was right there just in case. I think if he had not been there I might have been a bit more concerned. Given how much emphasis is being placed on safety in these vehicles (and rightly so given the circumstances), when the time comes hopefully any fears will be relieved after a few rides.