Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Autonomous cars start to take shape

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March 20, 2014

Futuristic autonomous car design studies at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show

Futuristic autonomous car design studies at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show

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We've heard a lot of chatter about autonomous vehicles over the past several years and seen a variety of hardware. So far, most autonomous cars are rough, experimental versions of current models, with all kinds of added sensor hardware. The recent Geneva Motor Show flipped the autonomous vehicle inside out, showcasing several futuristic design studies that peeked inside the car cabin of the future.

The new Link & Go 2.0 from AKKA Technologies is an evolution of the original Link & Go from last year's Geneva show. The first Link & Go laid the technological groundwork for AKKA's autonomous vision, focusing entirely on the car itself. Its design included a touch- and gesture-based human interface, a dual-mode design with fully autonomous driving option, a self-parking system controlled via smartphone, and an augmented-reality display for watching the road outside from the lounge-style cabin.

The original Link & Go

Last year's 11.8-ft-long (3.6-m) Link & Go was powered by two rear-mounted 28-kW electric motors and was able to navigate autonomously with the help of GPS, SLAM (simultaneous localization acquisition and mapping), LiDAR, stereo cameras and other sensors. Electric motors integrated into the directional suspension system provided tight turning and enhanced maneuverability. AKKA said the car was capable of a range up to 124 miles (200 km).

This year's 2.0 version builds upon that technological base and looks beyond the hood in experimenting with how the autonomous city car fits into the greater urban transportation landscape. In AKKA's vision, cars are a part of a coordinated transportation infrastructure that includes pedestrians, cyclists and other commuters. Instead of being limited to individual spaces - car lanes, bike lines, sidewalks, etc. - all transportation vessels and persons utilize the same space and coordinate through advanced communications and sensor systems. That sounds like bloody carnage to us, but AKKA reckons it's the future.

A diagram of AKKA's city transportation vision

The Link & Go 2.0 is lacking the big LiDAR roof unit of the original, but AKKA says that it monitors 360 degrees around its perimeter using a combination of lasers, cameras and other sensors. It also communicates with other vehicles and the city infrastructure itself.

AKKA envisions the car being part of a car-sharing system, coordinated through a cloud network so that passengers with similar destinations could share rides. It also envisions the car making use of its autonomous technology to add efficiency to the transportation infrastructure, automatically charging itself when its battery is low, driving through the car wash on its own when it's dirty, etc. Last year, it showed a robotic charging arm concept that hooked the car up to the grid without human intervention.

Inside the Link & Go

AKKA didn't have the Link & Go 2.0 open when we were there, but the original Link & Go showed a lounge-like cabin where "everyone is a passenger." A steering wheel allowed for manual driver control, mixing in acceleration and braking functions, then retracted when autonomous mode is selected. The front seats swung around to face the rear seats, and a central infotainment screen allowed occupants to monitor the world outside, providing peace of mind. The screen was also used for entertainment.

The Link & Go models are part of ongoing autonomous vehicle research that AKKA believes will "help to drive the design changes for future vehicles."

They weren't the only visionary autonomous cars at the Geneva Motor Show that might help drive those changes, however. As we previously reported, Swiss automotive think tank Rinspeed presented its own vision called the XchangE. This concept, too, employs swiveling front seats that quickly transform the cabin from traditional drive mode to laid back lounge mode. The seats feature 20 different adjustments to dial comfort just right every time.

The front seats of the XchangE spin around for lounge mode

In terms of onboard technology, the XchangE has 4G connectivity to support passenger activities like Web browsing and video conferencing. A four-screen Harman infotainment system includes a 32-inch 4K display designed for entertainment. Like the Link & Go, the XchangE incorporates a moving steering wheel underpinned by steer-by-wire technology.

The Link & Go models and Rinspeed XchangE join the Zoox Boz in providing a look at what the future of autonomous driving technology may hold.

Sources: AKKA, Rinspeed

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work.   All articles by C.C. Weiss
7 Comments

Robot cars would be good for alcoholics, but others may want to think twice about riding in one. It's a matter of common sense. I do expect that in time, the insurance industry will "convince" our lawmakers to make them mandatory. I'll be gone by then, fortunately.

Eddie
20th March, 2014 @ 01:57 pm PDT

It's for people who can't even conceive the idea of going beyond the boundaries of the concrete jungle, where they choose to reside. It's for the dull and lifeless who are currently behind the wheel of a Camry and are looking for something even less engaging. For the rest of us, who take our vehicles to the limits and explore places that don't have paved roads with street names, we can only hope not to have a government that makes these idiotic things mandatory.

Chevypower
20th March, 2014 @ 06:16 pm PDT

@ Chevypower

I agree with you. I’m a motor head- have a 69 Camaro with a 383 & 5 speed I love to blast, but once it’s proven that autonomous cars are safer & saves lives, manual driving will be outlawed.

WB1200
21st March, 2014 @ 09:06 am PDT

Not to fret guys & gals. I doubt seriously that anything of this nature will hit the roads of the ole USA within the next 75 yrs at best. I'm 66 now. So I certainly ain't worried. But probably at some point in the future the powers that be will decide that as a species that has over populated the planet, we are no longer capable of accomplishing such difficult tasks as making an intelligent decision in the voter both and therefore certainly aren't able to accomplish such a strenuous, difficult task as driving a vehicle. Whoops! What am I saying. We are already there. Oh shit!

OldretiredSFdude
21st March, 2014 @ 11:48 am PDT

Motor manufacturers are going nuts stuffing technology into something that will be short-lived as the human race is not ready for this. We had aircraft and loonies found ways to steer these into buildings. Now they are about to offer vehicles that will have the capability of faithfully going and delivering their outrageous contents to a crowded place by programming it? NOT looking forward to the first disaster. Will they vet the buyers? How? Profiling? Total dismay.

Manufacturers could easily concentrate on heads-up navigation, collision avoidance alarms etc. I don't believe it will ever be possible to 'mix' fully autonomous with driven cars. Imagine an autonomous vehicle trying to figure out what to do when the car in front with a human wants to turn left or right, but human has indicated wrongly. Does the autonomous vehicle work out that the driver in front may have made a mistake? Or does the processor heat up and fry trying to work out what's going on? What about eye contact when you let someone cross: drivers and pedestrians communicate instantaneously each's intention. What does a pedestrian look at when this thing comes to a crossing point? The guy reading his newspaper? I can think of so many troubling points that have not been addressed. I believe Elon Musk stated that fully autonomous vehicles will be very difficult. But if all cars were autonomous AND operators could be vetted then there may be a possibility - in a hundred years when we may not even need to commute by cars!

SSD
21st March, 2014 @ 01:48 pm PDT

make some roadworthy alone, esp for So CA area.

Have consumers test drive models & report data to auto makers etc Real time data feeds from cars etc.

Stephen N Russell
21st March, 2014 @ 04:09 pm PDT

At least then we'd get one or two seconds of audible 'warning' from the car's sensor system, that we're about to be killed head-on by a drunk driver - or another 'autonomous' vehicle, slip-sliding all over the place on an icy road.

I think DARPA participants are going to have to get out of Nevada, and into the real world, before they push this hobby of theirs too much further 'down the road'.

OuldBill
24th March, 2014 @ 12:52 pm PDT
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