What is an Autonomous Car: My Kia SOULEV Experience

I was invited to attend a very special event hosted by Kia that can answer that big question – What is an Autonomous Car?

Easily defined, an autonomous car is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. But words don’t describe an experience, and by going for a test ride, I am able to help make more sense out of what that exactly means.

In the 80’s, when having a cordless house phone was still a new, innovative household gadget, my dad purchased one for my grandfather. I recall my grandfather sitting there in awe and confusion as to how he could talk to someone with no wires attached. It was something unimaginable to him. The wonder he had by something then that has now, in this day and age, pretty much has been replaced by our cell smartphones, I can relate. In a very short period of time, the world around us is becoming more and more tech focused.

What is an Autonomous Car: My Kia SOULEV Experience

At the pace the evolution of technology is going, it gives me the awe and wonder that I saw in my grandfather that day. I had my “cordless phone moment” happen the day I got to learn firsthand exactly what an autonomous car is by getting a glimpse of our future from the passenger seat during a test ride of Kia’s Autonomous Driving SoulEV. Here I am, over a week later, and I still can’t wrap my brain around what I experienced. However, thanks to Kia, they caught my reactions on their development video. I have it set to start where the press day experience is shared, but I encourage you to watch the whole thing to see what I saw in action.

Kia Motors has introduced the launch of a new sub-brand, DRIVE WISE.

During the launching of Kia’s Drive Wise sub-brand at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas at the beginning of the month, Kia has said that they will have a fully autonomous vehicle on sale by 2030. I know that seems a bit away, but with a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, I realize that this is not much time at all. And right now, with the partially autonomous technology already capable for some of the parking and cruise control features, this is just the beginning here friends. Crazy as it sounds, this is happening.

‘DRIVE WISE’, to encompass its future Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). DRIVE WISE embodies Kia’s philosophy to realise intelligently safe vehicles featuring Kia’s latest and forthcoming ADAS technologies. Kia recently announced plans to manufacture partially-autonomous cars by 2020, and aims to bring its first fully-autonomous vehicle to market by 2030.

DRIVE WISE technologies are currently under development. Engineered to improve safety for all road users, DRIVE WISE will enable Kia to introduce intelligent safety technologies to its future model range, helping to eliminate potential dangers – and, for many, the boredom – of driving, while changing the ways in which owners interact with their vehicles.

Later in the year, Kia will showcase many of its innovative new DRIVE WISE technologies at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, where visitors will be able to preview Kia’s future autonomous driving and assistive technologies.

The progression of its autonomous driving technologies, from those available in current models to cutting-edge features being developed over the next 15 years under the DRIVE WISE banner. By 2020, Kia aims to introduce its first partially-autonomous car with DRIVE WISE technologies, building upon the current generation of driver-assistance systems.

So how do they start testing on public roads? The state of Nevada granted Kia a license to test the new systems on their public roads with Kia’s specially equipped Soul EV models. “Kia’s all-electric Soul EV – the company’s first globally-sold electric car – is acting as the brand’s testbed for the development of next-generation DRIVE WISE technologies, as it takes to the roads around Death Valley,” the company shared along with the announcement they will invest $2 billion by 2018 to stay in its 2020 and 2030 launch targets. This will help work out some kinks before they go into full production.


This is the first look. There are many unanswered questions when it comes to insurance, parking without a driver in the car, performance and safety as a whole, malicious hacking, and of course price point. But am I impressed? How could one not be? Here’s a look at my day at the proving grounds.

Some of the key points you can get from the photos above –

  • Highway Autonomous Driving (HAD) employs a combination of radar and camera detection systems (similar to the technology used by radar detectors) to interpret lane markings, allowing the car to stay in its lane or switch into others to overtake other vehicles or follow a different road; all without driver input
  • Urban Autonomous Driving (UAD) applies car GPS tracking and sensors to identify the car’s position on the road, allowing it to safely navigate through densely-congested city environments while responding to live traffic updates.
  • Preceding Vehicle Following (PVF) is an enhanced lane-keeping system which monitors the vehicle in front and allows the car to calculate its own path relative to it, following at a safe distance if road markings are indecipherable due to poor conditions or road layout.
  • Emergency Stop System (ESS) operates in correlation with Kia’s Driver Status Monitoring (DSM) system, to analyze the driver’s face, ensuring their attention does not stray from the road for too long. If it detects that the driver takes their eyes from the road for too long, ESS can automatically direct the car into an appropriate side lane and come to a halt.
  • Traffic Jam Assist (TJA) monitors the vehicle in front during congested traffic conditions, maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front and moving into appropriate spaces to gain ground.

  • Autonomous Valet Parking allows drivers to exit the car and let the vehicle park itself remotely, activated using the smart key or a smartwatch.

While sharing my experience with my father, who is probably about the age my grandfather was when he received his first cordless phone, and I think he too, without experiencing it firsthand, was pretty amazed. Maybe even a little sad that the world is progressing so quickly. My girls were less amazed and more expectant of what’s to come. However, they do think it’s kinda cool that their mom got to ride in one so far before its time.

What are your thoughts and feels?

*Kia invited me to a press event taking me to their proving grounds to ride in an autonomous car and then visit CES for their announcement. As always, all opinions are my own. 
Trippin with Tara
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