Kia Throws Its Hat Into the Autonomous Vehicle Ring at CES

Kia's autonomous vehicles could be paired with a smartphone app that would allow you to boss the car around from your watch, say. Here it's working on its parking. Kia Media

Every year, more automotive companies stake out space at CES in Las Vegas. They range from manufacturers of actual automobiles to companies that make the chips for ever more complicated nav systems and connected car apps. This year Kia is debuting Drive Wise at CES. It's a sub-brand that covers Kia's forays into partial and fully autonomous driving.

In the near future, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), like adaptive cruise control and rear cross traffic alerts, will fall under the Drive Wise brand. By 2020, that will expand to include partially autonomous driving, which encompasses Highway Autonomous Driving and Traffic Jam Assist, both situations that are easy to navigate but deadly boring for humans to deal with.

When using Highway Autonomous Driving, the vehicle will rely on cameras and radar to find the lane markers and stay between them. It also can switch lanes to overtake slower vehicles without driver input.

Traffic Jam Assist is like slow-motion adaptive cruise control. The sensors monitor the car in front of you, and your car follows at a safe distance. If a space opens in a faster lane next to you, the car will take advantage of that, too.

Kia plans to have fully autonomous vehicles ready for the market by 2030. It brought its driverless test car, an electric Kia Soul, to CES. Part of the challenge of making fully autonomous vehicles a reality, says Tae-Won Lim, a senior VP with the company, is getting "the right sensors in the right places" to minimize the cost and maximize efficiency.

While they wouldn't let me drive (or not drive) the one-of-a-kind Soul test vehicle, Kia did have a demo set up on the show floor at CES. It involved virtual reality and an Oculus Rift headset, so of course I said yes.

The plot of the short action film was that I and my partner were being chased by bad guys with guns. Luckily, we not only had guns ourselves, but we also had an autonomous Soul that came to our rescue when we called it using a smartphone app. We used the autonomous drive while we were in the car so that we could lean out the window and shoot at our pursuers and again to bandage my arm when I was winged by a bad guy's bullet. But it was all a dream! Which was OK, because the Soul detected my sleepiness and took over driving duties. It's all about the safety.

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