Driverless Vehicles – Will They Ever Become a Reality?
Driverless cars seem to have been an obsession for manufacturers and scientists for years now. As far back as 1925 the ‘linrrican Wonder’ could be seen on the New York City streets. This first attempt worked using radio impulses that made electric motors move the vehicle. By 1968 driverless cars were demonstrated in Nebraska, controlled by detector circuits embedded in the road. As early back as 1939 the futurama exhibit at the World’s Fair showed electric vehicles powered by circuits in the road and controlled by radio.
So what would be the benefits? Safety is the main benefit of a driverless vehicle. Deaths caused by drink driving or falling asleep at the wheel will no longer happen, so many of the 1.2 million people killed around the world on the roads may be saved. Volvo believe that 95% of accidents are caused by human error. Plus think of never having to find a parking space again, just send your car off to park then summon it back when you need it!
Driverless vehicles would mark a sad day for many people though – think of all the delivery drivers, taxi-drivers and driving instructors that would be out of a job.
We already see a large amount of semi-autonomous cars on the road at the moment many cars on the market already provide adaptive cruise control, stability control, pre-crash systems, automatic parking and lane-keeping systems.
So what is everyone up to at the moment?
Well there is already a driverless vehicle available courtesy of Induct Technology; the Navia is available to buy. It’s limited to 12.5 mph and can seat up to 8 people, it’s designed to transport people around pedestrianized areas such as airports, theme parks and hospital complexes.
Google have stolen the news recently with their smiley face driverless vehicle, it’s restricted to 25mph and uses GPS technology to locate itself with radars, lasers and cameras giving a 360 degree view around the car. This vehicle is built entirely from scratch rather than adapting an existing vehicle so it has no steering wheel, no brake or accelerator pedal but you can still perform an emergency stop ! Google say self-driving cars have successfully covered 700,000 miles successfully on public roads and hope to have announced plans to build 100 cars within a year.
Volvo have begun project ‘Drive Me’ in Gothenburg. There are already test cars on 31 miles of selected roads in and around the city and Volvo say these cars are already successfully handling lane following, speed adaptation and merging traffic. Their technology is being called ‘autopilot’ and allows the driver to choose to hand over driving control to the vehicle. The goal is to provide 100 customers with driverless vehicles to continue testing by the end of 2017. Volvo hope that by the end of the decade there will be fully autonomous vehicles on sale.
Tesla hope to have a driverless vehicle ready by 2016 and Daimler and Nissan working on producing an autonomous vehicle by 2020 it seems technology is not holding us back anymore – so what are the obstacles to a driverless future?
The law used to be the main stumbling point, with only some places allowing testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads. However, in the US states of California, Florida, Nevada and Michigan, as well as the district of Colombia, it is now legal for autonomous cars to be tested on public roads. The UK has followed suit and as of 2013 autonomous vehicles can now be tested on public roads. Questions such as, who would be responsible in the event of a collision? And would the cars be vulnerable to hackers? still have no clear answer. Also, would autonomous cars really make the same judgements as a Human? Humans are experts at reading situations from what a lunatic driver may do to whether that cat might run out and altering behaviour accordingly, would an autonomous car be able to deal with every bizarre situation that might come its way?
So if the technology is nearly ready and laws are being amended, maybe the only thing holding back the arrival of autonomous cars is our reluctance to let go of the wheel?
The comments above do not necessarily reflect Rivervale's views unless clearly stated.
3 June 2014
Written by Rivervale