Self-driving cars are the next big thing as urban dwellers begin to eschew private car ownership for pay-per-use convenience without the gigantic monthly cost. Google is one company that is investing in autonomous cars, and its contribution is already $1.1 billion and climbing.
There are six levels of automation for self-driving cars. Level 0 is a normal car without any assisting mechanisms. Level 5 is full automation. Chrysler’s innovations all range between Level 1 and Level 2. The Pacifica, in its “fully loaded” incarnation, contains almost all of Chrysler’s developed systems.
Chrysler has recently partnered with BMW for future developments of self-driving cars. These, however, are the systems that Chrysler has developed on its own:
- Adaptive Cruise Control
- Forward Collision Warning with Active Breaking
- Lane Departure Warning
- Blind Spot Monitoring
- 360-degree Surround View Camera
- ParkSense® Parking Assistant
Adaptive cruise control monitors the cars in front of the equipped car and automatically adjusts speed to keep a safe distance between them and the equipped vehicle. This system is a Level 1 system designed for the convenience of the driver and requires the driver to remain focused and aware of road and traffic conditions. The ACC will apply brakes and then the throttle at up to normal highway cruising speeds. It cannot steer, however.
Forward collision warning is a Level 2 system that will sense cars in front of the equipped vehicle. Usually, it will deliver visual and audible warnings, including beeps and messages, to alert the driver, but if necessary, it will apply the brakes in an emergency to prevent a collision.
The lane departure warning is a Level 1 system, and its partner, lane assist, is a Level 2 system. They combine to help prevent drivers of equipped vehicles from drifting out of their lanes. The systems have sensors on either side of the vehicle, and if the vehicle drifts too far without the turn signal being engaged, the systems will work together to warn the driver of the drift and then gently bring the vehicle back to the center of the lane. The systems also cooperate with the collision warning system to prevent skidding.
Everyone has a blind spot, and Chrysler’s blind spot monitoring protects drivers from unseen threats creeping up on either side. If a vehicle enters either of the driver’s blind spots, a light will flash in the applicable side view mirror. It also works with the lane assist by keeping the vehicle out of adjacent lanes. The blind spot monitor is a Level 1 system.
The 360-degree camera system actually involves four exterior cameras that provide a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle. This allows the driver to keep track of everything near the vehicle at once and avoid obstacles. It is a Level 1 system designed mostly for convenience, but it can also be a crucial safety system if a child is playing directly behind the vehicle. If a driver’s side views are blocked, such as in situations involving tight parking spots, the rear cross path detection system will assist in moving backward.
ParkSense® will park both perpendicularly and parallel as needed. It is a Level 1 system, too, because although it will steer for the driver, it still provides visual cues for the brakes and the accelerator so that the driver assists the assistant.
The Waymo Pacifica and the Portal
Chrysler has also contributed to Google’s Waymo project by providing not only the Pacifica model minivans but also all of the company’s relevant technologies. Through the combined efforts of the two companies, a Level 4 autonomous car is now being tested on the roads of Arizona, California, and Michigan. Reports indicate that the autonomous car successfully navigated Lombard Street in San Francisco.
Chrysler has announced the Portal, which is the successor to the Pacifica, as a Level 3 self-driving car and plans for it to hit production for the 2019 model year. The current plan is for the Portal to be fully electric as well. With Germany planning to eliminate the internal combustion engine by 2030, Chrysler’s moves are forward-thinking economically as well as scientifically. Because of Chrysler’s assertive moves in the marketplace, including its alliance with BMW, the Pacifica and Portal promise not to be the only autonomous cars produced by the company.
Self-driving cars are coming, although some analysts estimate that it may be decades before the streets are filled with fully autonomous vehicles. New innovations from Chrysler and other companies, however, are making it possible to experience some degree of autonomy even in the present.