Self-Driving Vehicles Aren’t Coming, They’re Here
For many of us, the first images of a car using assisted parking technology to parallel park itself with no input from the driver left us wondering if this was a car commercial or a prank. “No way!” we exclaimed. “Did you see that?”
Today drivers in a number of states are seeing much more than that. They are watching driverless cars execute flawless test routes into, through and around cities. We would add “as well as a human does,” but that would be a poor comparison.
Driverless cars produced by the likes of Google and Delphi Automotive have now logged nearly a million miles on city streets and have been involved in just a handful of low speed incidents, almost all of which have been the fault of the other, driver-operated vehicle. Some estimates say that a human driver is 10 times more likely to be at fault in a collision than a self-driving car. Within some populations – newly licensed drivers, for example – the number is even higher.
How Do They Work?
Driverless cars use a combination of GPS technology, lasers and radar. The GPS component works the same in a driverless car as it does on your cell phone or in the built-in systems of newer model driver-operated cars. It essentially plots your location on a map using satellite data. The lasers help the driverless car’s computer sense objects that aren’t accounted for in simple GPS data – things like other vehicles, pedestrians, construction zone obstacles, etc.
Radar adds even more environmental data to the analysis. Interestingly, it can see through many types of visual obstructions and detect objects that have not yet come into a human driver’s line of sight. The data captured in one vehicle’s test drive is shared with others in its fleet, helping all of the computers “learn” about driving at an incredible rate.
What are the Advantages of Driverless Cars?
Experts say that driverless cars will provide many advantages, from fewer accidents to more time for people who used to be “drivers” to focus on other things. Some of the most vocal advocates for this technology are the families of people with disabilities. Driverless cars would give people with limited vision and other physical challenges greatly expanded independence.
What Does the Future Look Like?
While reasonable estimates don’t put driverless cars on the road in any large numbers until 2017 or later, there seems to be no doubt at this point that they will become commonplace within the next decade. Already standard production vehicles are incorporating things like automatic emergency braking and lane change warning systems. There are still legal hurdles to be cleared, as most states currently do not allow driverless vehicles, but changes to the law, like advances in the technology, are surely on the fast-track.
Will driver-operated vehicles be outlawed one day? You don’t hear much discussion of that yet. And those of us who enjoy the freedom of the open road surely hope not!