It’s not every day that I can say I’ve ridden in a car that used a smartphone camera to run a self-driving app. VIA Technology demoed a technology showcase of VIA-AI which ran level 2 driver assistance functions using only the camera on a smartphone. In this live demo, the car stayed in the lane and kept a safe distance from the vehicle in front of it.
I’ve been in quite a few self-driving car demo’s but I will admit that when I realized that the car was only using the single camera on a smartphone to drive me to the city I got a little nervous. I’m used to self-driving demos showcasing how it’s able to use the data from multiple cameras, radar and lidar to make its decision on where it will go on the road. So this single-camera driving demo had me on the edge of my seat.
The driver assist was only used on the highway, otherwise, there was a very strong chance I would have jumped into the driver seat and taken control of the car! Highway driving has fewer variables. There aren’t cyclists, pedestrians, glare from office buildings or a zillion other things that aren’t present on highways. In my opinion, self-driving cars aren’t ready for urban environments just yet.
To be clear, VIA doesn’t actually want anyone to drive their car around using just a smartphone camera. The demo is meant to showcase VIA-AI which is an open source driver assistant app that supports Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), and CAN Bus integration functions. The CAN Bus integration is key because that’s how the platform is able to control the car. This is particularly cool because I’ve always wanted to hack the CAN Bus. No idea what I would do once I got in, but it’s one of the components in the car with the highest security since you don’t want just anyone taking control of your car.
VIA-AI features Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) which are used in VIA Mobile360 integrated camera systems. Integrating information from multi-camera setups is something that VIA has been doing since it was possible. The companies legacy in integrated system platforms led its move into self-driving technology.
Currently, self driving vehicles, running level 3 or higher, are happening primarily in geo-fenced areas. These are locations or routes that can be mapped and trained in advance so the vehicle has detailed information on its physical surrounding. Think of any bus route in a city, buses could drive the same route hundreds of day, this information is used to give the autonomous vehicle the most an edge so it’s not figuring everything out from scratch. It’s why we’re seeing trucks with established sections of highway or mining equipment which may spend its lifetime at one site be the first to see autonomy.
VIA-AI is aimed at companies who are working on self-driving solutions more than some guy looking to try to drive his car with a smartphone camera.VIA isn’t the first to show off self-driving with a smartphone, we’ve seen Comma.ai who has a consumer solution aimed at improving your cars assisted driving features. However, as I mentioned the CAN Bus is usually heavily protected by the car maker, so the list of companies that offer support are the ones that are further behind in terms of the development of their autonomous drive platform.
Wayve is another solution provider that used the cameras built into the car but only GPS directions from a smartphone to drive autonomously. This is another demo that would have me on the edge of my seat since it drove on roads it had never seen before and only had 20 hours of training data.
Doing more with less is a trend that we’re seeing in emerging self-driving technology. What do you think? Would you let a smartphone camera drive you from the airport to the city?
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