Hyundai steers Saudi market closer to driverless cars

Saudi Arabia’s drivers could soon be on the road to a safer and smarter future, thanks in part to the arrival of Hyundai’s latest automobile upgrades.

The South Korean automaker recently announced that it is incorporating more advanced technology into cars being exported to the gulf country. Although not technically “driverless,” the cars will include autonomous emergency braking (AED), smart cruise control, a lane-keeping assist system, driver attention alert and blind spot detection.

The improvements are part of Hyundai’s “Smart Sense” package, which the company says has already been added to its Azera and i30 models.

The latest additions are meant to complement other high-tech connectivity features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as wireless charging for smartphone devices. Hyundai will also introduce a visual design based on a “Fluidic Sculpture” model created by Hyundai engineers.

“The next generation of Hyundai models will further challenge many people’s perceptions of the Hyundai brand in the Middle East,” Mike Song, Hyundai’s head of operations for Africa and the Middle East, said. “People recognize Hyundai for quality and for value but do not realize how much the company is investing in design and engineering, and in completely new ways of thinking. Where Hyundai leads, others will be forced to follow.”

For more on what Hyundai’s announcement means to the global market, the Gulf News Journal spoke with John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog. Simpson has been an advocate for smart development of auto technologies and monitors landmarks in autonomous driving design, calling for adequate testing and oversight for these technologies.

Simpson said the new features promoted by Hyundai marketers are good innovations.

“What they are talking about right now is some very interesting and potentially safety-enhancing technologies,” he said. “Autonomous emergency braking is a very good thing.”

Simpson said U.S. advocacy groups have petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make AEB mandatory on new vehicles.

The difference with new features like AEB, lane assist and alerts, Simpson said, is that no one is suggesting the cars can actually drive themselves.

“The tech exists to assist the driver,” he said. “That’s all good, as long as it’s marketed in a way that makes it crystal clear to the driver that he or she has to stay involved.”

Citing Tesla’s autopilot technology, Simpson said there’s danger in innovations that suggest driverless cars are entirely ready for prime time, when there’s much more research and testing to be done.

“I don’t know if we’re ever going to get there.” Simpson.

If it does happen, he said, it shouldn’t happen without sufficient testing and monitoring.

Simpson called for accurate reports of failures for driverless car pilot programs like those being done by Google in California, and “disengagement reports” that show what actually happens when drivers take over.

“To know that rate of failure is critical,” Simpson said.

Simpson said future indicators will show whether and how Saudi officials are poised to introduce a truly self-driving vehicle.

“I hope they go through a rigorous testing process in the region,” Simpson said.




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