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Driverless Car Simulator Shows How Level 4 Could Actually Work

There is an ongoing question surrounding the development of autonomous vehicles. It’s not simply when will they get here or in what form, but how can they be deployed without full autonomy. In what ways can a tech startup or traditional OEM expect to deliver a safe automobile that is only capable of handling specific situations?

The answer might have come from a simulator, dubbed the ‘Surf ‘n Curve,’ developed by BCS Automotive Interface Solutions. Demonstrated at the North American International Auto Show, ‘Surf ‘n Curve’ featured multiple displays, a swiveling seat and two joysticks instead of a steering wheel. If it weren’t for the vehicular aesthetics and roadway visuals, you could have been fooled into thinking it was designed for air travel.

The unique steering interface proved to be very intuitive. Drivers hold onto both sticks and turn them in unison for a smooth and seamless experience. While it is possible to control the simulator with just one hand, doing so requires more pressure. It is, in essence, designed to be used with both hands at all times. Until it goes into autonomous mode, that is.

After swerving in and out of traffic more aggressively than I would on a real road, I allowed the vehicle to take over and was surprised by its transition. Instead of merely sounding an alarm, providing a visual or telling me to relax, the simulator swiveled the seat to the right. In doing so, my attention was taken away from the road and moved to a large in-car display that sits on the right dashboard. From here the joysticks could now be used to cycle through various entertainment options, allowing the driver to become a comfortable passenger.

This is an important part of AV deployment. Automakers are toying with the idea of removing pedals and steering wheels altogether to avoid the risk of consumer interference. The assumption is that if a consumer can control the vehicle when it should be controlling itself, accidents will inevitably occur. At the same time, what happens when the vehicle simply cannot proceed if a driver isn’t able to intervene? These are arguably the two biggest challenges of building driverless cars.

When the simulator finally reached a point where it could not continue on its own, the seat automatically swiveled back toward the road. Warnings indicated that controls would now be returned to driving, and in a very short time I felt ready to steer the car again. In a matter of minutes it became clear that the switch from driven to driverless may not be as dangerous as initially thought. Certainly this is not enough to develop a road-ready AV, but the potential is there for mid-road transitions that don’t require the vehicle to come to a complete stop.

By demonstrating a realistic way for the vehicle to toggle between driven and driverless modes, BCS Automotive Interface Solutions has shown that Level 4 AVs might be possible. Automakers could release a vehicle that satisfies the need for safer commuting while allowing the driver to retain control when desired or necessary.

In the end, it may not need to be the all-or-nothing AV solution that many predicted.

About the author:

Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.