FUTUREWATCH: Driverless Cars
We already have hybrid cars, already have electric cars, already have even the mini cars that zip around town with next to zero environmentally harmful emissions. With automobile technology quickly advancing, what could possibly be next in the future of cars? Flying cars? Hovercrafts?
Sorry Jetsons fans, but not quite – what’s coming next is even better. Autonomous, or driverless, cars are officially the future of the automobile industry. These fascinating vehicles operate without the necessity of a human in the driver’s seat. So yes, sooner than you think you may be seeing completely empty cars inhabiting the roads of your town.
How do they work, and why are they so awesome? Here’s the low-down on autonomous cars.
So the first question that comes to mind when it comes to autonomous cars is a pretty obvious one – how do they work without a driver? There are a couple of different aspects to how the technology works.
First of all, each car is literally a computer, meaning somewhere in its internal parts, there are an average of 7 dual-core 2.13 GHz processors that possess 2GB of RAM that are all necessary to interpret all of the data that the car receives. Depending on the make and model of the car, an autonomous vehicle may contain up to 17 of these processors.
Now, the processors receive their information from a few different places. First, there is a radar on the front of the car. This is traditional radar technology that the car uses to detect potentially dangerous objects in its path that are more than 100 meters away.
There’s also a camera system installed in the car, usually around the place where a rear-view mirror might sit. These video cameras are capable of identifying road markers and traffic signs and signals that are sent to the computers to be processed.
Then there’s a Lidar (laser radar) on the top of the car that is used to detect the car’s overall surroundings in a 100-meter radius so the car knows well ahead of time what areas to avoid. The GPS that also sits atop the car keeps it on its path to its destination with an accuracy of about 30 centimeters.
Using all of this technology, the car can generate a map of its surroundings to know where it’s going, what’s around it and what areas to avoid.
There are a surprising amount of advantages to an autonomous vehicle, and they are also surprisingly accurate when it comes to navigation and detecting objects around them.
Fewer Crashes: Humans make mistakes quite easily (let’s be honest). Computers very rarely, if ever, do. The reliability of these cars is through the roof.
Convenience: Seriously, how awesome would it be to get in your car and have it drive you to your destination while you work on something else? That’s the wonderful convenience of autonomous vehicles – you don’t have to do a thing as the driver!
Less Constraints: Any age driver can operate an autonomous car, and handicapping disabilities will no longer be an issue. Those with poor vision or slow responses will once again be safe to drive.
No More Fighting For Parking: Your autonomous car could literally drive you from home to your destination, drop you off, drive home and come back to pick you up and bring you back home without ever having to worry about finding a parking space. Or, if you want the car to stay where you are, it can drop you off, then go find a parking space without having to worry about the distance between the car and the destination.
Less Drunk Driving: Imagine a car that can literally bring you to the bar on a Saturday night, drop you off and then safely get you home without you ever having to worry about delayed reactions or blurred vision. With autonomous cars, we’ll see far less instances of DWI’s and fatal alcohol-related crashes.
No Extra Passengers: If you’ve ever had to drive someone to pick up or drop off their car at the shop, or drive your teenager to sports practice, drop them off, then go back for them a couple of hours later, you know what a pain it can be to have the need for an “extra” person in the car just to do the driving. This will no longer be a worry with the technology of driverless cars.
Less Cars on the Road: Now one car can literally get you to all of the destinations you need, so families can cut back on having 2 or 3 different cars to fit the needs of each person. And less cars means the roads are safer for everyone.
While the technology seems a little too good to be true in terms of potential benefits and added safety, the government still has its concerns when it comes to autonomous cars.
As it currently stands, driverless cars are illegal in every state in America except for Nevada. Back in March of 2011, the state of Nevada passed a law allowing further testing of autonomous cars within the state and authorized the use of such vehicles.
The law states that the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles is solely responsible for setting performance and safety standards and assigning designated areas within the state for testing. This means that while it’s not completely legal to operate an autonomous vehicle yourself in Nevada, the state has authorized Google to further test its prototypes.
While the technology is advanced and much of it is still in testing phases, the reality of autonomous cars is closer than we think. Experts are guessing somewhere between 2016-2020 we will begin to see predominantly autonomous vehicles on the roads.
Don’t get behind the times – if you’re a car lover, this is the future of your favorite industry. Embrace it, and be ready for the big changes that it may bring with it!
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