It may not be long before you will be driving down the road at 60 miles per hour, look at the driver in the car next to you and see that he is fast asleep. Only, instead of panicking and honking your horn to wake him up, you may think it is a good idea to get a quick nap in before you get home as well.
Autonomous, or driverless, cars are slowly become more of a reality. Every week an announcement is made about a new innovation. While we are still a few years away from the above scenario being ubiquitous, there are options out there that make it a reality today.
Here are 5 companies that are trying to turn everyone into a back seat driver.
1) The Lutz Pod from Catapult Transport Systems is set to be the UK’s first drivers vehicle. It is currently undergoing safety tests on public roads in the UK and Catapult plans to reveal the production model next in June.
With a range of only 40 miles and a top speed of 15mph, the Liz isn’t going to will any races. It is designed primarily for short trips carrying people with limited mobility. The real advantage that the Lutz’s 20 sensors create a 360-degree image of its surroundings. This, along with its small size, allows it to function in pedestrian-only areas, delivering the occupant literally from door to door.
2) Uber has gained a lot of attention for getting people from A to B efficiently. The crowd-sourced taxi service offers anyone the chance to give someone a ride when they tap their app. The simplicity and success of the service has taxi drivers around the world panicking. Their recent announcement that they are testing driverless cars to add to their fleet won’t make any friends either.
Brian Johnson, an analyst for Barclays, recently reported that by removing drivers from the cars they could reduce the cost of a ride by an extra 34 cents per mile.
The cash rich, 5-year-old company boasts a market value of just over $50 billion, which means that it has the incentive and the capital to introduce disruptive technologies to the industry.
3) Mobileye is a technology based company in the Netherlands that focuses on vision-based advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). They have mad significant advances in systems that are able to “see” using optical only motion detection with a single camera. This is compared to the complex systems that use dozens of sensors placed all around the vehicle.
These are incredibly simple systems to integrate into a vehicle and was one of the first systems to be incorporated into a production vehicle. Since 2008 all 7 series BMW have included a Mobileye traffic sign recognition system.
They now have a complete line of aftermarket, vision-based ADAS systems that can be retrofitted into virtually any vehicle on the road and are aimed at improving the safety of fleet vehicles. They now offer anything from lane departure and forward collision warnings to headway monitoring and low speed urban collision warning. Using their single camera they can also detect pedestrians and bicycles to protect everyone who is sharing the road.
4) Tesla Motors has held a regular place in the news since its inception in 2003. Its soft spoken, yet visionary founder made waves last October when he casually announced that all vehicles that were then being delivered to customers would receive a a wireless software update in June, 2015 update in June, that would allow them to drive from parking lot to parking lot without any driver influence.
With June just around the corner, Telsa in on track to deliver as they have promised, but regulators and insurance companies are still dragging their feet. The primary problem is that while many states have laws allowing automakers to operate driverless vehicles on public roads, there are no laws that allow drivers to operate those vehicles.
So, the reality is that thousands of people are already driving a car that can just lean back and take a nap in while they zip down the freeway, they are just waiting for someone to flip the switch.
5) It is hard to write any article about driverless cars without talking about Google’s “skynet marshmellow bumper bots”.
Google has been riding their cars around California for years now using a mixture of 3D laser-mapping, GPS, and radar to look around and interpret their surroundings. They are not anywhere near offering a production model because, as they announced recently, they are not interested in presenting incremental improvements and innovations. They plan to develop and test until one day, a fully functioning car without a steering wheel at all rolls off the press.
The variety of complex situations that these cars need to handle when navigating urban environments are enormous. From unscheduled duck crossings, to snow storms and construction sites, they still have a lot to learn. The biggest problem that the cars seem to experience now is not so much safety and convenience. IF the car is overly confused, it just stops. You are more likely to get stuck at a busy intersection because the car doesn’t know what to do and just sits there, that you are to hurt anyone.
The technology for hands-free driving in many situations is already here and areas that these cars can operate is constantly expanding. Most opponents of driverless cars are still asking the wrong questions.
They ask if a Lutz can make it’s way through a drive-through so they can get their coffee, not whether it can
pick their mother up and bring her over for Sunday dinner or help a disabled person get to the grocery store on their own.
They ask who they can sue if they are injured in an accident with a driverless car, not how can we save the lives of some of the 1.2 million people who are killed every year in human-error car accidents.
They ask if it can get them to work in rush-hour traffic quicker than if they drive themselves, instead of asking how if we car reduce the number of cars on the road and in parking lots by taking greater advantage of car sharing.
So, as the future of autonomous cars begins to collide with the present, we look forward to the opportunities that it will create, not only for humanity, but for every person in it.