We are all too familiar with hectic schedules and a whole lot of “running around.” Add traffic to the mix and it can be a recipe for a fender bender…simply due to lack of attention or focus. With current technology, it almost seems inevitable that driverless (or robotic) cars will soon be available to make our daily lives easier. However, a whole lot of research and planning has to be done before an official launch and there are never ending questions that will arise once in effect.
Automakers are developing complex systems that will allow cars to drive themselves. Further developing current systems (self-parking for example) is all part of this evolving technology. The same technology based in anti-lock brakes (in an evolved manner) is being used for sensors to detect when a car may go into out of control mode. In addition, sensors are already being used to help the ever so dreaded: parallel parking. By the attention it has been getting, it seems to be a popular perk. This type of feature is quickly developing to set the convenience factor at a high. For example, the Audi RS7 Sportback SUV can park itself while you stand on the curb and wait. All the driver has to do is position the car and command it with the use of a smartphone app. The same idea is used to “leave the parking spot.”
While a few automakers continue to work on robotic cars, Google has spearheaded the concept. It has actually had a fleet of driverless cars since 2009, and they have driven over a half million miles without a crash. That indication alone has fueled automakers to expand on the concept. The system used is called The Chauffeur, which uses lidar (light detection and ranging), works like a radar and sonar, but much more accurate. It can map points in space using 64 rotating laser beams taking more than a million measurements per second to form a 3D model in its computer brain that is accurate to the centimeter. There are preloaded maps to help determine stationary stuff (traffic lights, poles, etc) while the lidar steps in for moving objects. Standard radar and GPS also participate in the operation.
The technology involved in operating a robotic car does come at a price and currently, is at about $75,000. The goal is to bring that cost down within a few years so that most drivers can consider it. Currently, “semiautonomous cars” are only legal for testing purposes (not private owners) and in California, Nevada, Florida and District of Columbia. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued some guidelines, but nothing has been formalized. California DMV has actually begun to brainstorm how driverless cars will be legally regulated. There are many issues to address from data privacy and security and if a person actually has to sit behind the wheel or not. The Federal government still appears years away from feeling the need to deal with the topic. Basically, as technology evolves, regulating it will more difficult mainly due to the fact that something/someone has to be blamed in case of an accident.
A few automakers have announced these type of vehicles in the pipeline for the next decade. BMW, Tesla, Mercedes Benz, Audi and Nissan are on board with the concept. It is hard to grasp the fact that this quickly evolving technology is already being used and the idea of it being part of everyday life is approaching. Only the future will tell if robotic cars are really going to facilitate things or perhaps even make them more complicated.