Seat and Skoda take a small step towards the self-driving car

The launch of Seat’s first SUV is significant not only because it takes the Spanish manufacturer into new territory, but it also marks another small step towards self-driving cars.

One of the features of the new Seat Ateca is what the company calls ‘Traffic Jam Assist’. This system takes the drudgery out of coping with slow moving traffic jams. Engage ‘Traffic Jam Assist’ and your Ateca will apparently steer, accelerate and brake to maintain your position in the queue at speeds up to 37 mph.

‘Traffic Jam Assist’ also features across at fellow Volkswagen Group member, Skoda. It features on the Skoda Vision S concept SUV that was shown at Geneva.

Seat Ateca
The Seat Ateca

Of course, this is not as radical as some of the autonomous driving cars that are out testing, right now, on the roads. Or, indeed, the Tesla autopilot system.

But – when mainstream manufacturers makes moves like this – it does represent a small step towards the goal of the self-driving car.

Skoda Vision S concept
Skoda VisionS concept

And small steps are, I believe, what this game is about. We need to be reassured by a cautious and gradual move that takes both the public, and the authorities, towards autonomous driving systems.

Parking assist systems have been around for some time and I am sure many of us have tried them as a novelty just to see the steering wheel winding itself backwards and forwards, even if we go on not to use them in reality.

More recently Volvo gave me a chance to sample the pedestrian recognition and autonomous braking technology. I still remember how difficult it was to surrender control to the car and accept that it would recognise a dummy pedestrian and come to a halt.

Later on that first test drive I had my first experience of a car warning me that I needed to brake, when City Safety (below) activated. Driving into Dufftown, the dashboard lit up with flashing red and an alarm sounded. The Volvo had decided that, on a narrow town street with a 90-degree bend and a barrier on the nearside, I was not aware of the need to turn the steering.

Still, apart from the rudeness of the warning, it was good to know that the system was ready to slow, or stop, the car.

Volvo City Safety
Volvo City Safety

These days we are now becoming quite used to cars with adaptive cruise control and autonomous braking systems.

My own car (and the Suzuki Vitara I have driven so recently) is fitted with radar to maintain the gap on the car in front when using the cruise control. It is certainly effective and is now firmly on my ‘want’ list for all future cars. The radar is also used to provide emergency braking (either braking assist or autonomous braking) if it perceives a collision is imminent.

We also have plenty cars on our roads with lane detection systems.

So, you can see how it is a relatively small step from adaptive cruise controls, autonomous braking and lane assist, to the ‘Traffic Jam Assist’ system on the Seat Ateca.

Named after a town in Spain, Seat claim the Ateca has been ‘100% designed in Barcelona”, although it clearly relies on the floorpan and drivetrain technology of the Volkswagen Group.

Available in the UK from September, it will come with petrol and diesel engines ranging from 115 PS to 190 PS, in both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions, with manual or DSG gearboxes.
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