from the rs6-avant-or-gtfo dept.
Parmy Forbes writes at Forbes Magazine that Cruise Automation, a San Francisco-based startup, thinks it can get driverless cars to market faster than Google with something far more simple: a $10,000 accessory you can strap to the roof of your car and plug into your footwell. Cruise is taking pre-orders for 50 units of its RP-1 product, and says it will start installing them in cars early in 2015. One caveat: the system only works on Audi A4 and S4 vehicles, but Cruise is working towards making its technology compatible with other car manufacturers too. Cruise's founder Kyle Vogt refers to his product as a "highway autopilot." To work, drivers take their car onto the highway and onto the lane they want to be in, then they push a button for the system to take control of the accelerator and brake pedals, along with the steering. Drivers can then turn the system off in several different ways, including by tapping the gas pedal or by taking control of the steering wheel.
The technology works just like the cruise control button most vehicles already have, with some additional perks. RP-1 kicks in at a desired speed, but unlike traditional cruise control, it can bring the car to a stop, navigate through stop-and-go traffic, and keeps the driver in the center of the lane without the driver touching the steering wheel. It is not able to weave in and out of lanes though.
Vogt says the reason a startup can compete in this space is because of the intersecting trends of cheap and good sensors and cheap and good computers. Because many of the big-picture pieces are already laid out, Vogt and his team can spend their days tweaking their algorithms to do things like making steering smoother. "We are a new company, and I understand some people are not going to trust us in the same way they would trust a car company that's been around for 100 years," says Vogt. "This is not the holy grail. But it's a first step, and I think some people will really enjoy it."