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Self-Driving Cars Get Real

Becky Worley
Special Contributor, Yahoo! Tech
Yahoo Tech

Automakers are using the Consumer Electronics Show to get us comfortable with cars that drive themselves. To keep consumer acceptance on pace with the advancing technology, big-name companies like Mercedes, BMW, and Audi are rolling out self-driving concept cars, while other manufacturers are incrementally adding autonomous features.

Google first debuted the autonomous car back in 2010, but the 2015 CES seems like a landslide of new technology — and a show of force from traditional car manufacturers, not just from technology companies.

BMW: The car that valets itself
BMW has its autonomous technology trained squarely on the parking garage. The company demonstrated how a feature called Remote Valet Parking Assistant can be used in its i3 electric car with a smartwatch app. The driver initiates the parking mode, gets out of the car, and then lets the vehicle navigate the parking structure to find an empty space. It uses in-car sensors rather than GPS, since wireless communication can’t be relied upon in multistory structures.

Read: More Tech News from CES 

The company hasn’t released any immediate plans to include the technology but says it can imagine its deployment in the next five to eight years as the technology improves and the cost of the sensors goes down.

You can get some autonomy in BMWs today, like front collision warnings and automatic braking if a collision is imminent, lane departure warnings, and a cruise control feature that will keep a static distance between you and the car in front, even if that car slows or comes to a stop.

Mercedes: The self-driving car as lounge
Mercedes imagines a car that is a living room on wheels, and not just for the passengers: The driver’s seat in its self-driving concept swivels to face the rear passengers. When both front seats are turned backward, the interior of the car looks like the perfect configuration for playing cards. Additionally, the F015 concept car has screens in every imaginable sightline and feels like the interior of a luxe private jet. While this dream car probably won’t ever make the production line, the idea is clear: Autonomous driving is going to happen, and it’s a chance for the driver to relax in luxury.

Currently, the company offers radar-based sensors that warn and automatically brake in a front-collision risk. They also have lane-keeping technology that helps alert you if you veer out of your lane (from inattention or falling asleep).

More from Yahoo Autos: Mercedes reveals its self-driving car of the future

Audi: Self-driving itself to CES
Audi used its autonomous driving system concept technology to pilot an A7 from San Francisco to Las Vegas in advance of CES. Audi and some other cars from its parent company Volkswagen already have lane-keeping alerts, front-collision warning, adaptive cruise control that monitors the car in front, and pedestrian monitoring.

The company has been very aggressive in its pursuit of a real self-driving car and says it will be ready to roll it out in the 2017 A8, if the legal system is ready for autonomous driving

That’s a big “if.” The legal hurdles have been a major barrier, but if the dominance of autonomous driving at this show points to anything, it’s that the legal debate needs to keep up.

And lest you think self-driving cars are only for the luxury automakers, Ford and other manufacturers have had parking assistance for a few years to help with the dreaded parallel parking conundrum. Many companies are investing in lane awareness technology, too. Ford says it has fully autonomous cars on the road being tested now, and it anticipates autonomous driving to hit the mainstream in about five years.

Not all the new-car tech is about autonomy: Hyundai this year impressed CES with smartwatch and smartphone apps that let drivers remotely locate, unlock, and start their cars.

In the evolution of self-driving cars, automakers are combining big ideas with smaller, real-world steps to inch us closer to that robotic chauffeur of the future.