It goes by several names – autonomous, robotic, self-driving, driverless. Wikipedia describes it as “a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input”.
It is just that. A car that drives you.
How cool is that? One of our major sci-fi fantasies brought to life! (Knight Rider, anyone?)
Despite all the recent hype, the concept is rather dated. Experiments have been conducted on automating cars since at least the 1920s; promising trials took place in the 1950s and work has proceeded since then.
And although the basic idea is the same, there’s some key differences in terminology you need to understand.
Autonomous vs Automated
Autonomous means having the power for self-governance. Many historical projects related to vehicle autonomy have in fact only been automated (made to be automatic) due to a heavy reliance on artificial hints in their environment.
Source : Wikipedia
Autonomous vs Self-driving
Autonomous cars will look like the vehicles we drive today – taking over from the driver in certain circumstances.
Self – driving cars are a stage further on. The steering wheel will disappear completely and the vehicle will do all the driving using the same system of sensors, radar and GPS mapping that autonomous vehicles employ.
Source : The Economist
The first self-sufficient and truly autonomous cars appeared in the 1980s, with Carnegie Mellon University’s Navlab and ALV projects in 1984. The Navlab group builds computer-controlled vehicles for automated and assisted driving. Their latest project is the Navlab 11 – a robot Jeep Wrangler equipped with a wide variety of sensors for short-range and mid-range obstacle detection.
Since then, numerous major companies and research organizations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles – from Tesla to BMW, Volvo and even Google.
And they’ve all got something unique to offer. Take a look below.
Very few cars are as beautiful as the Tesla Model S. There’s just something about the brilliant design and futuristic software that make it a clear favorite of technologists everywhere.
Late last year, Tesla unveiled it’s Autopilot feature – which allows Model S to use its unique combination of cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and data to automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, Model S scans for a parking space and parallel parks on your command.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? But the thought of letting technology do all the work, with no way for the driver to know what’s coming is slightly unnerving. Fear not. Tesla has looked to provide some peace of mind with the Model S’ display having been updated to include an image of the car that gives an indication of what the car is seeing.
Autopilot in already legally deployed in several parts of the world, which puts Tesla way ahead of its competitors in this market. But a human being still must remain in the loop, ready to intervene at any moment.
Tesla is unique in treating its vehicles like software, where users test out the kinks. Every time you need to manually take control, details about what the driver did, and where they did it, are sent back to Tesla’s HQ. From here they’re sent out to the rest of the Autopilot equipped cars on the road. Essentially, this means Tesla’s cars shouldn’t make the same mistake twice (personal favorite right here!). Chief executive Elon Musk has said his company wasn’t aware of any accidents while its thousands of vehicles were in Autopilot mode. No accidents!
More recently, Tesla pushed out another software update, with a brand new feature called Summon. This allows the car to drive by itself while empty. Perfectly suited for squeezing in and out of tight parking spaces. This mode comes with the warning that it should only be deployed on private property.
The Google driverless car is a project by Google that involves developing technology for autonomous cars. The software installed in Google’s cars is named Google Chauffeur.
In May 2014, Google presented a new concept for their driverless car that had neither a steering wheel nor pedals, and unveiled a fully functioning prototype in December of that year. Their in-house prototype Pods are downright adorable! They began testing on roads in 2015. Google plans to make these cars available to the public in 2020 (just look at the little marshmallow!).
The project team has equipped a number of different types of cars with the self-driving equipment, including the Toyota Prius, Audi TT, and Lexus RX450h. But Google is still very much in its testing phase. As of September 2015, Google had test driven their fleet of vehicles 1,210,676 mi (1,948,394 km). Google has been road-testing in the states of California and has now expanded to Texas, where regulations do not prohibit cars without pedals and a steering wheel.
In recent news, a Google self-driving car attempted to avoid sandbags blocking its path. During the maneuver it struck a bus. Google addressed the crash, saying “In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision”. Google characterized the crash as a misunderstanding and a learning experience. The company also stated “This type of misunderstanding happens between human drivers on the road every day”. They’re not wrong, of course!
Two major challenges circle the autonomous car industry today :
- The cost of the sensors itself is high enough to scare away most consumers
- Legality poses a big problem – most places around the world have explicit bans on autonomous vehicles
Having said that, there’s no denying that driverless cars are a future that is fast approaching. How do you feel about this? Wait, before you answer, here’s one more piece of information.
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, BMW created an incredible concept car called the Vision Vehicle.
The visionary automobile uses “materials of the future” and “alive geometry”, and senses hazards in advance. What this means is, it is essentially a very smart, self-driving, shape-shifting vehicle. Yup, you read that right. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself.
I don’t care if this is only concept. Or might take the next century to develop. Anyone not jumping in their seats after watching this video must be dead inside.
Now, coming back to my question – how quickly would you hop in one?