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Automobile firms eye cars that almost drive for you

Final prep for 2013 Chicago AuShow McCormick Place. The show starts this Saturday. Wednesday February 6 2013 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Final prep for the 2013 Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place. The show starts this Saturday. Wednesday, February 6, 2013 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 10, 2013 6:48AM



Do you want your car to do the driving?

Most people would answer “no” — immediately. But drivers already rely on many systems designed to avoid crashes, and experts at the Chicago Auto Show on Friday said fast-evolving technology will one day put the vehicle itself behind the wheel.

It won’t be soon but incremental change keeps encroaching on the driver’s domain.

The auto show experts said driver obsolescence isn’t the immediate goal. The more realistic aim, they said, is systems that will drastically reduce accidents and fatalities.

“We envision that we will come to that point where we really reach cars that do not crash,” said Nady Boules, director of global research and development at General Motors.

He and others said the know-how is already in place to give safety a bigger lift, especially in the more expensive cars. Some have infrared cameras that scan a driver’s face for signs of distraction or fatigue, backup cameras that warn of obstacles, or brake overrides that will stop the car if the driver doesn’t.

Those features will become more commonplace and will find their way into cheaper rides, said Jim Pisz, Toyota’s corporate manager for North American business strategy. Advances that remove more control from drivers will require testing and time for acceptance, he said.

“If we don’t build trust step by step with consumers, the technology will not be implemented,” Pisz said.

With each model year, more cars will alert drivers who are wandering out of their lane or getting too close to something else. Insurance companies and federal regulators will have to climb aboard before a car manufacturer takes more control from the driver, auto executives said.

“Many things have to happen before we take the driver out of the car ... and say the car is now responsible,” Boules said.

The auto supplier Continental had two vehicles on display showcasing driver “assistance” technology. One was a Cadillac XTS outfitted mostly with technology that’s available now, including “adaptive cruise control” that keeps a safe distance between vehicles and vibrating seat cushions to warn against lane-meandering.

The car also has a ring of interior lights that flash or trail toward the windshield to alert a distracted driver. Zach Bolton, project engineer at Continental, said the interior lighting is under development in consultation with manufacturers.

Also on hand was a modified Volkswagen Passat, a potentially “driverless” car that Continental developed to test the technology.

Christian Schumacher, head of advanced driver assistance systems for the company, said testers have put 15,000 miles on the car in Nevada, where it faces a variety of weather, terrain and rural or urban settings. He said the car has done well but that much more work is needed before consumers get comfortable with the idea.

Schumacher said that by the 2016 model year, new car buyers should notice that driver assistance features are more common. As for features that amount to a terrestrial version of a plane’s “automatic pilot” function, look for those in 2025, he said.



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