Roads and highways filled with self-driving vehicles zipping to and fro across cities is still a few years away from becoming a reality. But the wheels of technological progress is at full throttle, with Google, General Motors, and MobilEye diligently working on perfecting self-driving vehicle technologies (a reality many automotive journalists seem to dread and deny). Yet it might be a small 8-person San Francisco operation appropriately named Cruise Automation, which may get into the fast lane with drivers before their slower-to-accelerate competition.
The Cruise RP-1 is a $10,000 conversion kit which takes control of steering, throttle, and braking, all the while making sure the car remains safely in its lane and at a safe distance from other nearby vehicles. A combination of open-source software and hardware – with an uncanny semblance to the Xbox Kinect – utilizes a combination of a trunk-installed computer with an array of overhead cameras and radar to calculate auto-pilot driving on highways (note: the system isn’t designed to navigate in city, stop-and-go conditions).
Automotive giants like General Motors and Mercedes-Benz aren’t sleeping on autonomous driving systems either. Alongside Google’s fully autonomous, steering wheel free approach, just about every car company has similar driver-assistive technologies utilizing radar systems for automatic braking, steering, and acceleration in development, ranging in degree to assistive in nature to full hands-off experiences. But the Cruise Automation system’s price and the option for aftermarket installation sets it apart as a gateway technology enabling semi-autonomous driving before drivers fully sacrifice the steering wheel to robotic decision-making.
The Cruise RP-1 comes with three caveats: 1) the system will currently only be available for use with 2012 or newer Audi A4 and S4 models (other model compatibility is in the works), 2) the RP-1 will only be sold in California, and 3) only 50 of these systems will initially be available for launch next year. Reservations for the system come at a fairly hefty price, but those interested can lay claim here to join the Cruise Founders Club and take their hands off the wheel and pedals before everyone else.