Cars That Drive Themselves

By Jim Taddei - March 16th 2012
1 comment

Are you ready for a car that drives itself?

Successful prototypes are already on the road in and around San Jose, CA. Artificial intelligence systems that control the car based on input from 360° sensors, cameras, and GPS make it all possible. There is not much to differentiate them from any other vehicle other than the roof top mounted cameras. That and the fact they don’t drive faster than the posted speed limit—the speed limit for every road is included it the computer’s data base.

Traffic engineers claim that if cars can drive themselves, highways will be able to handle more traffic. Apparently they think computers can do a better job at driving than humans can. I tend to agree that is probably true. In theory, these computer driven cars could travel closer together than we do now. When working properly, the cameras and computers will never be distracted as drivers can be, resulting in a significant reduction in traffic accidents. Also, up-to-date traffic information could automatically adjust your route in real time. This all adds up to a much more efficient use of our roadways.

Another benefit is that if collisions can be eliminated, many of the safety systems currently in use can be removed. This weight reduction will result in lighter, more fuel efficient vehicles.

Many of the control systems are already on our newest vehicles. The throttle, braking, and steering systems are often commanded by driver, but the actual control is done by a computer. Google, yes that Google, has designed the hardware and software necessary to pass the command of these vehicle systems from the driver to a computer.

The first successful vehicle was “driven” in 2005 as part of a contest sponsored by the Pentagon. A $2,000,000 prize was awarded to a team of Stanford students and faculty members lead by Sebastian Thrun. They designed a vehicle that could be driven autonomously over a 132-mile course in the desert.

There is no telling when cars that can fully drive themselves will be available in our new car showrooms, but cars that can park themselves are already here! I am sure it won’t be too much longer—we shall see.

Would you want a car that could drive itself?

1 User Comment

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Cars that can drive themselves and other amazing gadgetry come with an often ignored downside and that pertains to the cost of fixing some of this stuff when the car is now in the hands of the second or third owner. Combine that thought with several other articles about the diminishing numbers of qualified technicians, and what the scan tools and software to support these systems cost the independent repair shops and all I see is a real nightmare in the future.