As technology develops we will see a new division between those car owners who can afford the latest, almost autonomous vehicles (which are going to be expensive) and those with the cheaper manual options.
Nima Ashtari, through his company based in Toronto, X-Matik Inc., is launching a test version of a commercial product that is designed to turn a car into a self-driving model. The good news is that the cost will be less than $3,000.
What is it?
The product, LaneCruise, is an add-on kit. It will turn almost any existing car into a vehicle that is partly autonomous for less than $3,000. It is a beta kit, made of several components, that takes about an hour to install. It includes an LCD interface, a forward-looking camera, which is attached to the rear-view mirror, and there are actuators on the floor pedals and the steering wheel. Nima Ashteri says that people are always amazed when they see what can be done for such a small amount of money.
How does it work?
The camera is able to see where the car is going and can relay this information to a processing unit, which is underneath the driver’s seat.
The actuators control the vehicle and allow the driver to cruise with both hands and feet free. This makes it similar to Tesla’s Autopilot and Nissan’s ProPilot. LandCruiser is similar to an advanced form of cruise control. It helps the vehicle to maintain a set speed and distance behind another car. However, the driver still needs to pay attention to the road.
Another part of the X-Matrik kit is the lane-change indicator, and once it is activated the system is capable of switching lanes automatically. This function will not be available in the first kits to be released. The first 200 units are being limited to buyers in Ontario, so the company can gather additional data from test users prior to a full launch next year.
It was in November that X-Matik’s Ashtari appeared in Dragon’s Den. Ashtari, who was previously a mechanical engineer for Tesla and Honda, secured $350,000 in funding through this program. An additional $500,000 was given to the company by angel investors. This has allowed the company to expand from three staff at the beginning of the year to twelve, with plans to have ten more employees within the next 3 months.
Seven groups have received approval from the government in Ontario, to test self-driving cars on Ontario’s roads. They include Uber, the University of Waterloo, Erwin Hymer Group, Blackberry’s QNX, Continental, and Magna. X-Matik is part of this group and have already logged 56,000 kilometers since testing began.
Ashtari believes the government in Ontario have been very helpful to smaller companies, allowing them to participate with and compete with the bigger competitors. He believes that if only larger companies are allowed to innovate, then innovation will be very slow.
Companies, such as Tesla, in particular, have been critical of small companies, such as this. In particular, Comma.ai, which is a company working on the same type of project in the US. Tesla believes that these small companies do not have the ability or the resources to produce this type of product on a larger scale.
Analysts in the industry are cautious. Although X-Matrik does lack some of the more advanced technologies that bigger companies are introducing, they are able to make some aspects of self-driving technology more affordable.
The vice president for internet of things and industry research at IDC Canada, Nigel Wallis, believes this idea has promise as it makes this technology available to a wider population. Ashtati admits to some of the limitations because of the lack of additional sonar and radar but stresses that drivers are warned when limits are reached so they can take over.
He is optimistic about the future of self-driving and its affordability.