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Toronto auto show shines light on autonomous cars

by Phoebe Ho, Yan Zhonghua

TORONTO, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- A self-driving car is no longer such a farfetched idea, if presentations at the 2014 Canadian International Auto Show are anything to go by.

In fact, visitors to this year's exhibition could see for themselves some of the existing advanced features of autonomous cars, as well as get a glimpse of what the future may hold.

Shining the light on the idea of connectivity this year, the annual Toronto show, which ran Feb. 14-23, took the opportunity to educate people on some of the connectivity-based advanced driver assistance and safety technologies, and previewed some autonomous features consumers might expect to see in the next decade, if not sooner.

Originally simply a form of transportation, today's cars have evolved beyond the basics, with many people also using their vehicles as mobile communication devices -- enabling them to stay connected, entertained and advised at all times. Some cars are already capable of preventing crashes or minimizing the impact by using cellular, GPS, radar, laser, infrared, microwave and camera-based technologies.

Nine carmakers at the exhibition's showcase area presented visitors with visual and interactive displays to explain and demonstrate some features currently available, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping, blind spot warning, forward collision alert and intervention, and cross-traffic alert and intervention.

One of the big highlights was the onsite demonstration of Ford's Active Park Assist system, already available on several models.

"The car will, once you've engaged the park assist, find the spot that's available to park in and then steer it south in its spot," said Theresa Longo, Ford's brand ambassador at the auto show.

The demonstration driver Daniel said the whole parallel parking process can be simplified with just a press of a button. As the car can steer itself, all the driver needs to do is operate the gas and brake pedals.

Besides the onsite demonstration of the parking system, Ford also showcased some future technologies they're working on.

"Future technologies can include things like complete collision avoidance technology, where the car uses ultrasonic radar technology to calculate closely if you're going to hit something (and) take over braking and gas mechanisms as well as steering mechanisms to get you out of the way of the collision," said Longo. "So we've demonstrated on some test runs and we're showing it in some videos here."

Another highlight was Mercedes-Benz's full scale S-Class driving simulator, which gave visitors a chance to experience some of the car's advanced driver-assistance technologies, including "hands-off" steering.

"It showcases what we call intelligent drive," said the company's technical support manager, Jochen Haab. "Intelligent drive is a mixture of comfort and safety features that we use to enhance driving comfort of course, and also to make sure people are as safe as possible on the road, by using different kinds of sensors that are networking together."

"That's why we call it intelligent, it's almost like a human brain which can deal with different kinds of signals," he added.

Perhaps echoing the overall feel of this year's show, the ultimate goal of carmakers is to bring more fun and comfort to the drivers, Haab said.

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