Self driving cars have been a feature of science fiction films for many years. Most of us are aware that they will eventually become a fact of life. What we are not all aware of yet is that it is imminent. Car manufacturers are in the final stages of their prototypes and we can expect the real things to start arriving on the roads in 2017.
To prove that self-driving is more than just a concept, Audi asked a few journalists to sit in one of their new cars. The instructions were simply: not to have any input into driving. The car went 560 miles from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas. Mercedes launched a prototype at the CES Motor Show which allows the driver and front passenger to swivel their seats and face the rear passengers whilst the car is in motion and being self-driven. Even BMW have shown off their new technology this year. The i3 EV can parallel park by itself, it can also find and park in an empty space in a parking garage.
This technology has improved rapidly. Just ten years ago it looked unlikely if not impossible for a car to ever drive itself. A self-driving car contest in 2004 across a deserted desert was a disaster. The course was set at one hundred and fifty miles but none of the cars made it past seven miles. Just three years later and the same event in 2007 saw nearly all the cars finish the course.
Everything started with Google and its self-driving car
Self-drive Google cars have already been seen in Silicon Valley, although there remains a driver behind the wheel and shortly we will see the first production car on sale. The first of these cars will be limited to lower risk roads such as the interstate and possibly on some of the rural roads where there are few vehicles to deal with. They will certainly assist with the long distance driving. The initial cars will not be ready for urban use and this is wise as consumers will want to see how well they work first.
The other important factor when about to mass-produce these vehicles is the look. In the past cars which boasted new technology invariably were very noticeable due to their outlandish features. The Audi A7 self drive test car looks almost identical to a regular A7. The only clue was the DARP sensors on its roof and sides.
The A7 was manually driven in urban areas; outside of these it drove itself at speeds of up to 70mph. The onboard computer has GPS and knows when an urban area is approaching. It alerted the driver and allowed him to take over in plenty of time.
The reality of the self-drive car is reliant on sensor technology. There are many sensors already present in today’s production cars and many that have and are being developed. These sensors will surround the vehicle allowing it to detect close proximity objects and cars and the onboard computers can then take the appropriate action. Existing technology, such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and lane departure warning will form an important part of the new self-drive cars. A high-resolution wide angled camera is also a likely addition to track surrounding traffic.
Ultimately it is possible that every car on the road to become automatic. Parking would be easy – all drivers must do is to leave the car at the entrance to the garage. It will park itself and return to you when called. Assuming cars will become attached to the internet, it would be quite possibly for them to communicate with each other and track each other via GPS to ensure accidents are a thing of the past.
We want to believe that sometime in the future cars will drive themselves. Basically, the car parts will become so revolutionary, that drivers won’t even have to look at the road to get to point A to point B. Until that happens, car manufacturers keep launching prototypes in the hopes that someday they’ll perfect them to become autonomous.