Although self-driving cars may be most popularly associated with Google’s much-talked-about prototypes and major automakers, a new startup is looking to disrupt the entire space with a system you can attach to any vehicle.
The Cruise RP-1 is a system the company calls an autopilot tool for the road. So while it’s not exactly a self-driving car mechanism, the Cruise RP-1 represents an incremental — yet major step — toward hands-free driving.
Once installed, simply pressing the Cruise button (pictured below) allows the driver to travel on a highway without touching the steering wheel or foot pedals while the system ensures that the car stays in its lane and maintains a safe distance from other cars in front of it.
The system itself can be fitted to nearly any vehicle and consists of a roof-mounted “sensor pod,” containing two cameras, a radar mechanism, GPS, inertial sensors and an on-board computer, as well as actuators that control the car’s steering, acceleration and braking actions. Using this software/hardware combination, the Cruise RP-1 constantly scans the road to keep the car operating within safe parameters in relation to other cars and the boundaries of the driving environment.
At present, the system, priced at $10,000 (including installation), is slated for a limited rollout in California sometime in 2015. That falls in line with the schedule of road regulations currently being developed to govern autonomous vehicles in California. An initial testing phase is set to launch in September, with full-fledged public autonomous driving rules planned for the first half of the year.
“We’ll be fully in compliance when the new rules are introduced during the first half of next year,” Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt told Mashable.
“We’re calling it a highway autopilot,” says Vogt. “I don’t think it’s fair to label it a self-driving system yet. It’s an advanced driving system rather than autonomous vehicle.”
Along with the car system, the Cruise also features an iOS app that allows the user to see what the system can see in real-time. Connecting to the system via Wi-Fi, the app provides a graphic that displays the cars detected around you.
But despite the fact that it’s not a full-on autonomous driving system, the launch of Cruise will immediately lead some to draw comparisons between it and other autonomous-driving-style offerings being touted by the existing players.
“Our initial product is on the [2012 or newer] Audi A4 and F4,” says Vogt. “The idea is that it will work on any vehicle, but there is a little bit of integration. But, since we’re a small company, we’re focusing on one model for now.”
Installations of the system will occur at the company’s facility in San Francisco.
However, when asked about competing autonomous driving systems working with its cars, without singling out any particular company, Audi spokesperson Brad Stertz told Mashable, “Audi of America does not support or condone the modification of its vehicles by third parties for this or other purposes.”
Audi showed off its own “Piloted driving” system earlier this year using the Audi A7.
“We believe that the development of automated vehicles and associated technology must be carried out very carefully and in a step-by-step, iterative manner,” says Stertz. “This approach we see as necessary to help ensure that the technology meets the expectations and needs of all stakeholders. Additionally, the legal and regulatory picture remains unsettled state to state.”
Audi says its Piloted driving system will be “technologically ready within five years.”
Similarly, BMW also unveiled an automated driving system prototype earlier this year using the BMW M235i. But, when asked about when the system might be ready for commercial use, a BMW spokesperson told Mashable, “We’ve made no announcements (and have none pending) about the possible production future of the autonomous driving technologies.”
So while a number of companies — including Google, which hopes to have a pilot program for its automated cars on the road in the next couple of years — are promising automated car systems, by offering a widely applicable solution, Cruise is putting pressure on the major players to ramp up their schedules.
“Until it’s actually out there in the cars we don’t know if it’s just a concept or not,” says Vogt, referencing the various systems being touted by major companies. “Also, ours is the only one that I know of that goes from 0 to 80 miles per hour hands free.”
At first, only 50 units designed for the Audi will be offered to the public, with reservations for future units currently available for $1,000 each.
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