One day, we might all be driving, or not driving, autonomous cars. The only control we’ll all likely have is the destination. But the control of the autonomous cars should be left to the car for safety, while in general traffic. The control of the car by humans can be done in recreational race tracks, wilderness terrain, exploration, and so on.
So when are these cars going to arrive? And since the research, and the development of these vehicles is very expensive, who gets to use them first? But first, I want to examine the advantages of robotic cars.
The advantages are clear. You just set the destination, then just sit back and enjoy a book, send text messages, talk on the phone or even shut your eyes and catch some Zzzz’s. These vehicles no longer need to keep their distance from other cars (which at times didn’t always happen while humans had control) because these driverless cars are better at control than humans, since they don’t get distracted, or daydream, or forget, and so on. That means that they can follow closely while driving at highway speeds. Something which would normally get you a ticket from your friendly neighborhood sheriff.
That means that highways are packed tighter and less lanes are required. New highways can be smaller having fewer lanes. There would be no need for automobile insurance, since you wouldn’t really be a driver, let alone having to have driving skills. You wouldn’t need a driver’s license, meaning you could be an adolescent, of advanced age, blind, or some other form of disability or restriction. And just imagine this. You can have the car drive you to the airport, drop you off, then drive itself back to your house. Then when your trip is over, it can come pick you up. No need to have someone wake up at the crack of dawn to take you to the airport.
Who Developed These Cars?
I remember last year seeing a documentary about a government group known as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) that held a contest in 2008 called the Urban Challenge. DARPA was the same group instrumental in developing the Internet. The Challenge? Develop a driverless car. The prize? Two million dollars cash. And there were 11 contestants, from private citizens, to the military, and to colleges. Ii was an open invitation. The objective? To develop a car that could merge into traffic, handle the complexities of traffic such as four way intersections, traffic lights, other cars, pedestrian traffic, parking, and so on without problems. And they had a time limit. The winner (The Tartan Racing Team) beat the second place team by 20 minutes.
But that was a very basic setup (even though there were 50 human drivers in a test situation at George Air Force Base). Real traffic is infinitely more complex, because you never know what a pedestrian, cyclist, or other driver may do. They could be drunk, they could be children at play running willy-nilly into traffic, and so on. There is much more work to do before this system is ready to implement.
How Does It Work?
Well, that explanation would take a much larger article but there are four technologies involved that work together. Of course, the one technology that we’re all basically familiar with is GPS, but the three others are Lidar, Radar, and Computer Vision. Let’s take a look at these technologies.
- GPS (Global Positioning System) – This system, which we’re familiar with even though we have only started using with the last ten years or so, is a receiver that receives signals from seven satellites in space. It tells you where in the world you are.
- Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) – This technology can measure the distance to an object by shining a light on it. It uses three kinds of light. Visible, near infrared, and ultraviolet. It can even target rain and measure how far away it is.
- Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) – A pretty old system (World War II) that measures the speed, range, direction and altitude of an object.
- Computer Vision – This system uses pictures that it takes, and interprets the information in real time. This is the system that sees the road, the building, other cars and so on.
Who gets first crack?
Just like the Internet, the military gets first use of these driverless cars. But our use of them is not too far off. It has actually started and will come into more frequent use as soon as 2018. We already have systems in place that govern our cruise control (radar based), warning systems that warn you of vehicles close by as you try to change lanes, and motion sensors. General Motors is heavily involved.
But do we really want these new cars? I know that I do, but there are people who don’t. There are people who like to drive themselves, who’ll miss the call of the open road and the urge to speed. This is an obstacle to getting these new cars on the road, to be sure but I believe that people may be drawn in by the appeal of relaxing (texting, emailing, researching, and playing) during their trip, where they can work or play while on the road. And the added safety of these cars may get the government to help implement them sooner rather than later.
But maybe we can come to some sort of middle ground, and allow some situations where self driving will be allowed. The voter and freedom loving individuals will see that they get the freedom that they want.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Some other things I’ve written are: