The idea of driverless cars is nearly as old as the car itself. Whether speaking of Night Ryder’s Kit or even of more futuristic flying versions seen in the Jetsons, the concept of leaving the driving to the car is deeply ingrained in us. For years, several companies and universities have been hard at work on the technology required to actually bring the dream into reality. Now, as we are well into the second decade of the 21st century, the dream is getting closer to that point.
Pilotless Planes? Why not Driverless Cars?
For the past several years, self-driving cars and other forms of transportation have been at the forefront of transportation technology. If it’s possible for a Boeing 747 to fly , land and take off itself, why then should it be such a stretch of the imagination that a simple car could do the same? The U.S. military maintains fleets of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and very few accidents involving the aircraft have been reported – many fewer, in fact, than those of piloted military aircraft. Of course, the skies are much less crowded than say the freeways of Southern California, but the urban terrain that the planes fly over is just as congested.
To the Moon and Beyond!
Universities, corporations and the United States military have all developed and sponsored contests utilising driverless vehicles. Time after time, these vehicles have successfully navigated over hundreds of miles of terrain without the need for a human driver. Teams that complete the various tasks of the competition the quickest are awarded with prize money to be used to further advance the electronic sensor and navigation technology. NASA has also been closely watching the developments as they plan for an eventual exploration of Mars and a return to the Moon.
While many companies, both in the automotive industry as well as technology field, have been developing this type of electronic technology for many years, one company has recently taken the forefront of putting these technological wonders into full-scale use. The Internet giant Google Inc. has been actively testing a fleet of driverless vehicles on the streets of California. Google’s hope is to eventually unleash a mega-fleet of these automated vehicles to take over the day-to-day work of its Google Maps Street View initiative. Currently, Google employs hundreds of drivers who navigate streets and roads in countries around the world, taking photos of the scenery along the way. This is then incorporated into the Google Maps service, allowing viewers to see an actual view of the area. In the near future, the driverless cars could help increase the frequency at which these photos and videos are updated, leading to a better Google Street View product.
License and Registration Please
As things currently stand as far as driverless car laws and regulations are concerned, driverless vehicles cannot operate independently. However, the United States Department of Transportation has authorised the cars to operate on public roadways as long as a human driver is available to take over in case of an emergency. On any given day, dozens of Google’s prototype fleet can be seen driving the streets and freeways of the San Francisco Bay area. After many months of testing, the vehicles have only been involved in one reported accident. While driving down a busy San Francisco street, a cyclist darted in front of one of the cars. The automated system sensed the cyclist and, as a human driver would do, it quickly applied the brakes, avoiding the careless cyclist. Unfortunately, the car following the Google automated car was following too closely and collided with the car’s rear bumper. There were no injuries, and the driverless car was deemed not to be at fault.
As testing continues and the safety and efficiency of electronically controlled cars is proven, regulations will change, eventually leading to their use on public streets totally independently, that is, without humans onboard. The technology is here and has been for several years. What remains is to prove its safety and allow people to get comfortable with the idea of self-controlled automobiles. In a few years, it’s very possible that your take-out food could be delivered to your doorstep without a delivery driver. To be facetious, the only problem this presents is the question of how much to tip the car. Indeed, we are seeing the future of driving, and the driver’s seat is empty.
LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design. www.lx-group.com.au
Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.