Hands Free on the Highway: My First Self-Driving Car Experience

Hands Free on the Highway: My First Self-Driving Car Experience

A year and a half ago, my mom and I were in a car accident. We were on our way to the mall to buy me a new pair of jeans, and an elderly woman ran a red light and crashed into us. Luckily, I saw it coming and screamed. My mom slammed on the brakes and swerved out of the way as much as she could, saving us from huge catastrophe. Besides my mom’s beloved Subaru, no one was severely injured, but the loud, awful sound of the crash is something that has stayed with me ever since. According to the United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 94% of all car accidents are caused by human error, as was the case for me and my mom.

I hope you have never have to experience it yourself, but you can probably imagine the anxiety that comes with getting on the road again after being in an accident. To this day, every time I think about getting in a car, my heart rate accelerates, and caution and safety are my top concerns.

Safety

That being said, I find it interesting that there is quite a bit of fear associated with the idea of self-driving cars. For some reason, people are more scared of a potential computer malfunction or giving up control to technology than they are of other humans, who are the leading cause of car accidents by a large margin. In fact, one of the main reasons for autonomous vehicle development is to increase transportation safety and reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on the road. We shouldn’t be frightened by the Hollywood dystopian “robots taking over” delusion, but rather delighted by this incredible technology that will make our lives both easier and safer.

While self-driving vehicles aren’t that widespread yet, they are certainly on the rise, and I was fortunate enough to take a ride with some of the existing technology created by VIA. VIA currently has a variety of Mobile360 solutions that help to enhance vehicle tracking and safety, while also increasing fleet utilization and efficiency, including drive recording, surround view, lane keeping and other ADAS technologies.

The Demo

When I woke up Friday morning, I was expecting a normal day at work, sitting at my desk, working at my computer. Little did I know, I was going to experience something extraordinary. Just before lunch time, I was asked to accompany a coworker for a demo ride. We made our way to the garage of the VIA building, and were greeted by a team of engineers, two of which accompanied us for the ride. Upon sitting in the backseat, we found ourselves mesmerized by the screens on the headrests in front of us. The screens had three different live videos playing at the same time; a 360 aerial view of the car’s surroundings, the road in front of us, and the face of the driver. I found myself especially intrigued with the latter two.

When there was a car or cyclist or any moving object near us, the object would be identified by VIA’s in-vehicle Mobile360 system, and would be highlighted in red on the screen. Not only does this help keep drivers alert to changing road conditions, especially ones they might not see, but also shows that the car is capable of detecting danger and acknowledging what needs to be avoided. The camera that was streaming the driver’s face highlighted his face in green when he was looking forward and had his eyes on the road, but would highlight it in red and give a warning when he was looking away, even if just for a split second, keeping the driver accountable and vigilant. Just these features alone allowed me to feel a level of safety in this car that I had never really experienced before.

Hands Free

Then, came the truly astonishing part. Once we were on the highway, the driver lifted his hands off of the wheel and put them in the air, no longer steering or controlling the car. If my friends remove their hands from the steering wheel when they are driving me around, just for moment to fix their glasses or grab a drink of water, it usually puts me in a panic, and I yell at them to put their hands back where they belong. However, this time was different. I got to see how the car took over. With VIA-AI ADAS technology and accompanying smartphone app, the car employs a lane detecting and keeping system that steers the car to keep it in its lane. Even along the curves of the highway, the car is able to steer itself. With this feature, along with cruise control, the driver had no need to touch the wheel nor the pedals, allowing the car to truly drive itself.

Was it weird to watch the driver just sit there with his hands in his lap? Definitely. Amazing? Undoubtedly. Scary? Not at all. I felt the excitement of a little kid on a ride at Disneyland for the first time. I was test driving the future.  And yes, I felt 100% safe. The progress being made towards autonomous vehicles is astonishing, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m just so thrilled that I am able to be a part of it.

Written by Bria Rosenberg, Intern at VIA Technologies, Inc.

VIA Technologies, Inc.