Google’s self-driving car might not be available until 2025. In the meantime, a new startup has another solution: A highway autopilot kit that can be installed on an existing car, starting as soon as next year.
"We want to make a solution for consumers right now," says Daniel Kan, head of operations for Cruise Automation, the manufacturer. "30,000 people die in car accidents each year in the U.S. alone, and more than 90% of those accidents are caused by human error. These accidents . . . are preventable with what we can build."
The kit doesn’t make a car fully autonomous. "The driver needs to be in the front seat paying attention to the road," Kan says. But it does enough that it can keep drivers from crashing if the person in front of them decides to check their cell phone and suddenly swerves, or if drivers happen to get distracted themselves.
A sensor pod on the roof keeps track of everything happening on the road, and a small computer in the trunk controls the brakes, acceleration, and steering wheel. "We we believe it offers a more unique and complete experience to the modern cruise control and is merely what cruise control should be," Kan says.
Since the driver still has to be in the driver’s seat, the technology should also be easier to legally get on the road than a completely self-driving car. The company is starting with a kit for a particular model of Audi, with installations beginning early next year at a cost of $10,000. They plan to adapt the tech for every make and model of car, though a slight tweak will be necessary for each design.
Over time, the technology can be remotely updated to add new features. Eventually, the company hopes to design a fully autonomous car as well, though for now, their goal is just to get something on the road as soon as possible.
"We want to make our technology available to as many people as we can to start preventing accidents across the country," Kan says. "We want to tackle the problem right now with a solution that will help take some of the burden of driving off of people—who are easily distractible, whereas a computer never gets distracted."