Do you remember good old Cartoon Network? Not the commercial CN channel it has turn into today, but the fun, refreshing entity it used to be 10 or 15 years ago when some of us were growing up? Cartoon Network used to stream a futuristic show about a family that lived in the future – they were called the Jetsons.
Remember how they had flying cars and how they could command the car to take them wherever they wanted if they did not feel like doing the job themselves? Well, flying cars might still be the figment of imagination, but cars that drive themselves are becoming a reality as we sit here and speak.
The Self Driving Car, the First Step Towards a Safe Transportation System
Google, for example is following up on its strategy at trying its hand at everything humanly possible and since last year, has been focusing efforts and funds in order to develop a program using Toyota Priuses that is supposedly going to let cars in California drive up the freeway without little or no driver input at all.
Why is this such a good idea you might be wondering? Well, because computers have a reaction time so much faster than a human’s for starters. Plus, a smart car could communicate with other cars in the manner that aircrafts do while in flight in order to avoid collision. Already, features that make the driver’s job easier have started to pop in recent car models like steering or breaking facilities and in some major cases, software that overrule human command in order to prevent crashes.
Google and Car Manufacturers Start Developing Self-Driving Car Prototypes
Bill Ford, one of the chairmen for the notorious Ford company, suggested that car companies need to get more interested in the problem of developing autonomous vehicles. Not only will they help dissipate the annoying traffic jams but could make room for more cars on the overcrowded roads. One of the companies that is very interested in the development of the self sufficient car is Volvo.
Dr. Erik Coelingh has been leading the development team in Sweden and has managed to design a technology that involves one lead car feeding information to other driverless cars in the back.
“If something unexpected happens on the road, such as construction or a deer in the road, the human driver will brake and send commands back to the other cars”
An Autonomous Car Could Save Lives
Let’s go back to Google and its endeavors. The company is so advanced in its efforts of creating the perfect car that drives itself that it has already begun testing some prototypes and so far, it has accumulated more than 190, 000 miles of city traffic, highway traffic and even mountain roads. Of course, the cars are not even close to ready to being launched on the market, but the testing phase is an important factor that marks the fact that Google is not just fooling around, it actually means business.
Google has released some details and technical videos of the project in order to showcase its strategy for avoiding road accidents, congestions and fuel consumption. Google engineer Chris Urmson is the tech lead of the project and he explained that the core of the car lies in a laser range finder that sits above the roof of the car. The device is actually a Velodyne 64-beam laser that produces a very detailed 3D map of the environment. The car is then apt to produce different types of models by comparing and combining laser measurements with the accurate maps. The car is also packed with sensors that will detect anything, plus four extra radars that will detect and interpret traffic lights and a GPS.
How Real is a Self-Driving Car?
Yes, novelty like this will certainly become very attractive to drivers at first and carmakers can snatch some nice amounts of revenues. But as soon as users will get over the futuristic detail and begin to expect such features to become a standard a problem might arise. Seatbelts, airbags and electronic stability control were also hip at one point but they became mainstream in quite a short while and now represent a strict requirement in all newly manufactured American cars. Europe will follow in 2014.
When the novelty wears up and the compulsory routine begins, this tweaks become just another manufacturing cost. Take for example the rear-view cameras – the American government wanted to make them compulsory by 2014 but they were forced to post-pone the plans due to the insatisfaction of the car manufacturers. I will be glad if I’ll see, at least, the electric car becoming more popular…
See the Big Picture
And consider this. What if the knowing that the cars cannot produce accidents will prompt drivers to take more risks? Even if some cars are getting smarter by the minute, we have to ensure people are well educated and prepared for such a breakthrough. You have to realize that a self-driving car doesn’t mean you are out of your car and it works by itself! That could be possible in the near 50 years, but I would still be reluctant towards that idea.
I would accept to live in a society of totally self-driving cars that would perform commercial services: say, mail cars, delivery cars and so on. But the purpose of a self driving-car is well depicted in the above picture: a road train. In these situation, a self-driving car is much needed. Or, let’s say you are tired, depressed or you just somebody just called and delivered you a bad news. But think about how the world could look like with a well thought transportation system, free of human errors…