A Silicon Valley company is set to release a system next year that could turn your car into a self-driving machine – at least for some of the time.
It attaches eight cameras to the inside of a car wired to its own software, which a user will be able to switch on when they need it. Tesla has previously sold customers technology which can change lanes, take exits and follow a route – but only under driver supervision.
But if it works, Ghost’s self-driving system, set to be launched sometime in 2020, would be the first to allow drivers to entirely take their attention off the road.
The company says it will cost less than Tesla’s system, which is currently $7,000 for what the company terms “full self-driving”, including a semi-autonomous navigation system and summon, which lets you move your car remotely using an app.
Founder John Hayes said: “Someone has to drive the car to the freeway, and they can relax exit to exit.” He said that while initially, a driver would have to press a button to hand over control to the car, eventually it could happen automatically.
“I think that what we call distractions today [would] just become a more natural part of driving. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to look down to send one text. I think some people will approach it from just doing these micro self-driving moments where they just let it go for a bit,” he said.
Hayes said the company had picked motorways because they were the easiest places to drive and required the least amount of interaction with unpredictable situations.
It has been developed with the help of commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose cars have been fitted with the cameras. The technology is designed to “learn” from the decisions of a good driver.
However, it has not yet been tested on public roads, and Ghost has not yet approached US regulators to clarify the legal situation were it to be sold to consumers.
Launch in a non-US market could take even longer, as the car would have to learn the driving behaviors and customs in the new country before it could be safely released.
Engineering companies have made bold claims about the potential of self-driving cars, and have set ambitious targets for the release of the technology, many of which have been missed.
Existing self-driving systems have been criticized for their ponderous decision-making, including struggling to turn against traffic and navigate busy pedestrianized areas.
Most companies, such as Google spin-out Waymo, Uber and Lyft, are also targeting a taxi-based business model, rather than selling the technology directly to consumers.
Many of them also approach the technology from a “rule-base” perspective – programming the car to deal with all possible scenarios by having it encounter those situations in testing, but some have begun using an approach that involves having them “learn” from a human driver instead.
The idea is that this requires fewer hours on the road in a car that is not yet fully autonomous, which can be dangerous.