Futuristic technologies star in Detroit auto show

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FOR the technology phobic, the Einride T-Pod autonomous cargo truck could be the stuff of nightmares. It is an imposing sight, lacking a traditional driver’s cab, and looks like it might have been dreamed up by a sci-fi filmmaker.

The electric truck was one of many high-tech innovations on display at the North American International Auto Show — or simply the Detroit auto show; ongoing until Jan. 28 — where the top industry players are showing off their latest models and are considering the future of automobiles and transportation.

A spokesman for Swedish company Einride said it will test the T-Pod on its native country’s roads later this year.

The promise of an autonomous future is a dominant theme for industry insiders, and many tech companies participating in the auto show focused on how to improve self-driving vehicles.

Nearby, steering systems manufacturer Nexteer boasted that it can make a steering wheel that does not need to be physically attached to the actual wheels of a car in order to turn them. That lack of a direct connection allows the steering wheel to be a lot more maneuverable.

“We can have a ‘stowable’ column, so the steering wheel actually stows into the dash,” said Dave Sabol, an engineer with Nexteer.

This will be key for autonomous driving, he added, because future cars can hide the steering wheel when the driver is not in charge.

An Ohio firm offered access to data from its expansive road testing facility at a barely-populated outpost outside Columbus.

Chief scientist Christoph Mertz said he can create a database of regularly updated road conditions, so that robot cars of the future can use the information to quickly adapt to their environment.

“At the moment we are in the place where [data] is growing exponentially,” Mertz said.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Shuvo is offering to “clean” data that already exists to teach self-driving vehicles perform better and learn how to drive more like humans.

“That refining process is labeling the data, showing the car what a pedestrian looks like, what a pedestrian does, so that it can better predict different behaviors,” Mr. Shuvo said.

Despite all of the promise, though, many tech attendees said robots and artificial intelligence are not replacing humans any time soon.

Even that autonomous cargo truck has its limitations.

The T-Pod carries about half as much as a typical human-driven truck and is best for distances no farther than 500 kilometers, the company said. — AFP