The day after California told Uber to halt the testing of its driverless cars, Hyundai gave us a short ride in an autonomous Ioniq electric. The trip was mostly uneventful — our driver/engineer did not hit anyone and, unlike Uber’s, Hyundai’s car did not run any red lights. You will think that is faint praise, but at the speed of advancement we take nothing for granted.
More than once during our ride around a pre-mapped, all-right-turn route in Las Vegas, the Ioniq had to kind things out for itself, and the longer you ride the more you realize the scope of information we humans process without noticing. This Ioniq was identified only by its Korea-spec origins — twin charging ports for quick and regular recharge and no side marker lights — and Nevada’s autonomous vehicle license plate. Tourists were fully unaware that it was driving itself.
Hyundai’s Autonomous Ioniq Electric Features
The autonomous Ioniq uses one 140-degree and two 110-degree Ibeo lidar units in the front facia, plus a camera array within the cabin at the top of the windshield. A single camera is used for traffic-light detection, with stereo units for the driving assistants. According to Hyundai, the autonomous gear detects objects knee-high however also won’t drive into a low-hanging tree branch.
We’re also told the system works in rain and snow, citing the all-conditions approval certificate from Nevada, although that center front sensor appearance prime for snow packing in heavy stuff. Basically, one processor collects all the input data and merges it to a singular view and a second processor tells the car what to do about it. Hyundai notes that minimal system power consumption was a primary target.
The cabin sports the prototype-standard large red kill switch, an additional display atop the center of the dash, and two real-time monitors hanging behind the rear seats. The dash display is there thus human drivers know the car is aware of its surroundings — it shows traffic lights as red or green (yellow isn’t detected however it’ll not panic stop if it loses a green light), speed limit, vehicle speed, route, a steering wheel to denote autonomous operation and pedestrians detected.
Hyundai’s Autonomous Ioniq Electric Ride Experience
One rear monitor shows what the traffic-light camera sees, the other what the lidar units are picking up, from road curbs to folks, vehicles and buildings. The ride experience is drama-free if a bit on the circumspect side. Braking is often moderate to heavy, more on/off than the modulation range of many human drivers, however we felt no panic braking or ABS intervention.
The steering wheel ratchets through turns in what seem to be three- or four-degree increments, then calculates that is not enough and adds more or less as required. That kind of steering movement is a curious thing to watch and likely not the most energy-efficient or easiest on tires, but it wasn’t abrupt enough to transfer lateral motion or head-toss to occupants. When the car has satisfied itself the road is clear, acceleration to the limit is electric-car crisp, effortless. And quiet.
During our ride, the car signaled appropriately, always used the correct lane and stayed within the lines even on poorly marked curved roads (no lane changes on this route) and dutifully motorised past Las Vegas’s finest at the posted speed limit. The only potentially illegal move was a right turn with pedestrians in the marked crosswalk eight lanes away.
Hyundai’s Autonomous Ioniq Electric Performance
At our speed they’d have had plenty of time to move aside if they were nearer, and with that distance and a center divider the move did not seem the least bit unsafe, especially with the 2 regular cars behind following suit. Observing from inside the cabin, the details and variety of situations the car faces become more focused. Much of the process is dependent on the accuracy and detail of the mapping the car’s using, thus a dip in the road or rough railroad crossing might be done quicker than a human thinking about comfort or suspension longevity.
It has to know if a left-turn arrow has a no-U-turn limitation, as this car did and calculated properly. It doesn’t have the ability to separate more-dangerous pedestrians — those holding a phone or ranting at nothing in particular — and it doesn’t have capability to detect strobes, warning beacons, or sirens on approaching emergency vehicles. When stopped behind a pickup where the camera may see the red light but nothing below it, we wondered how long it’d wait after the red light goes out before honking.
Any pricing information could be a long way out, and we do not have an answer on whether or not the self-driving Ioniq would aim to preserve the driver or pedestrian(s) outside the vehicle if it had to choose one or the other. If you are paying for livery service you’d expect a quicker, smoother ride, however this was far less stressful than the last taxi ride we took.