At the opening of Intel’s Advanced Vehicle Lab in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Delphi gave journalists and analysts rides in the autonomous vehicle it developed in partnership with the chipmaker and Mobileye. I’ve ridden in a number of self-driving prototypes, and Delphi had demonstrated the test car in January at CES. I was expecting another overly cautious, but capable ride along the two-mile route on the public roads around Intel’s office.
Instead, the car drove more like a Californian in San Francisco traffic, exhibiting less of the excessive politeness we’ve learned to expect from the robot cars that are still trying to prove their safety to humans. The car still followed traffic laws and was supervised by a human driver, but it accelerated quickly after red lights, stopped closely behind vehicles and changed lanes on a curve without slowing.
The Delphi spokesman riding in the car said it had “modes of caution” that could be programmed according to people’s comfort with the vehicle. The mode we were driving in was “driving with confidence.”
Self-driving rides are no longer a novelty in the automotive tech world. Companies have proved that their cars can complete a programmed route without having a driver touch the steering wheel. Now, the challenge is to show that these cars can keep up with human-driven traffic, and won’t be bullied by aggressive drivers or cause bottlenecks by driving under the speed limit on highways. Manufacturers’ ability to achieve that level of complexity in driving could dictate how fast these cars are integrated into regular traffic, or whether they’ll have to stay in their own lane.
-- Katie Burke