LAS VEGAS: SELF-DRIVING CARS are no longer the stuff of science fiction, and at this year's CES, they're one of the most talked about and arguably over-hyped industries. So when INQ was offered the opportunity to take a trip in a robo-car during the Las Vegas tech show this week, we, naturally, leapt at the chance; after all, what is all the hype about?
Despite a wildly-inaccurate warning from my dad that "people die in those things", myself and colleague Chris Merriman hopped into one of Aptiv's self-driving BMWs at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Sunday and were taken on a short, fully-autonomous trip around the erratic surrounding roads.
The Level 4 vehicle (above) - which means it can operate without human input or oversight but only under select conditions defined by factors such as road type or geographic area - was largely indistinguishable from your average car; there are no mounted sensors on top, nor a trunk full of computers.
Instead, the modded BMW makes use of Aptiv's inconspicuous integrated sensor system: a bunch of internal sensors including LiDARs, radars and a trifocal camera, alongside an infotainment screen on the inside to show what the vehicle's sensors "see" on the road ahead.
During our trip, on which we were accompanied by a safety driver - y'know, in case my dad was right - we were cut off by a couple of cars, which was bizarrely thrilling. When the vehicle first handled such an obstacle calmly and at ease, for a brief moment it felt like I was living in the future.
After a couple of minutes, though, the novelty wore off, because when technology works as it should, it's delightfully boring. This is exactly the response Aptiv is looking for, too, telling us that the public's often-skewed perception of autonomous vehicles - such as my dad's - is one of the biggest obstacles the industry faces.
Overall, the entire 15-minute ride was exceptionally smooth and there was no sudden and unnecessary braking, which Aptiv tells us wouldn't have been the case in one of its last-gen vehicles demoed at 2018's CES. Although I'm usually a nervous passenger, I've never felt safer on Las Vegas' frantic roads; the robo-car performed as well, if not arguably better than any human would in the same situation: extra cautious, considerate and aware.
Sometimes it was perhaps too cautious, though; the vehicle would slow down when approaching traffic lights and then speed through them after registering that they were green, and sometimes took corners too slowly for even our liking.
This cautious approach, however, has seen Aptiv sign a deal with cab-hailing company Lyft; CES attendees can select a self-driving vehicle during the Lyft app this week before the cars are made available to the public later this year. µ
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