"It's really an autonomous car show now," Valeo's CTO, James Schwyn, told me one evening at this year's CES consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas. And he was not being hyberbolic.
Nearly one third of the convention center in Las Vegas was given over to automotive tech this year (not counting the smart cities area), plus all the parking lots surrounding the center, at least three separate hotel venues and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, all of which were devoted to demonstrating self-driving and driver assistance technology. And everyone from Qualcomm to Hitachi was showing how their technology was going to fit into the autonomous future.
I took a slew of ride-and-drives, from a sultry highway sojourn with Qualcomm's look-Ma-no-lidar system to a gut-wrenching panic stop demonstration of Daimler's emergency braking system for trucks. We'll be reviewing some of those systems over the next few weeks, starting off here with Yandex's autonomous car platform.
Comprised of several Velodyne 360-degree lidar units, a raft of video cameras, and radar sensors (hidden in the bumpers), the Russian technology firm's platform uses Linux and a pair of Intel CPUs in the trunk augmented by a trio of Nvidia graphics processors. Streets were mapped out in advance using lidar, but it only took Yandex two weeks to retrofit the car in Vegas (rather than shipping a vehicle over from Russia), according to the company. Yandex's head of self-driving cars, Dmitry Polishchuk, told me the company had been working on the software and technology for about 2 years.
The Yandex system easily recognized pedestrians and seemed to be able to predict the driving paths of nearby vehicles. It stayed true and clear of bustling Las Vegas traffic, negotiating left and right hand turns, recognizing traffic lights, and waiting when a pickup truck suddenly appeared in our path just as we were about to pull out onto a six-lane road.
But no autonomous system is perfect. I did notice that on one straightaway, the car had trouble maintaining a consistent speed and appeared to hunt slightly back and forth in the lane. Check out the video and see what you think.