Everyone knows that technology is expanding at a rate the world has never seen before. Until recently the idea of a car that drives itself was science fiction. Very few people thought it would ever come into existence. But here we are with this very technology within our grasp. Companies like Google are taking over the robotic industry before it even gets off the ground. Google’s smart car started making headlines when it was used to take pictures of every street in America for Google maps. But a driver-less car is a new concept even to Google. But just exactly what makes this car tick, and how soon can we expect see this car on the market available for public purchase?
Of course, we should have seen this technology coming. In fact, most of us have some form of driverless technology in our vehicles already. Cruise control, anti-lock brakes, self-parking cars, and alarm sensors that tell us when a car is coming behind us as we pull out of the drive way, are all forms of driverless cars. But completely independent self-driving cars are a new concept to us all. Google engineer Sebastian Thrun is responsible for both Google Street View and the new driverless car technology. Thrun used a system of sensors to make ten vehicles, Toyota Prius’ Audi TT, and Lexus RX450h, completely robotic. These sensors keep the cars going the speed limit (based off of program map information) in conjunction with the vehicles surrounding the car. This prevents accidents and is reported to be a highly efficient method of preventing accidents in test runs. However, if ever a driver gets nervous he or she can simply tap on the brake and take over the steering wheel the same way people use cruise control without the risk of running into someone. Cameras on the driverless car help it to read street signs and stop lights making the car more law abiding than most individual drivers on the road. But with built in GPS technology the car is perfect for individuals suffering from debilitating diseases or handicaps that make it impossible for them to drive themselves.
Even though Google doesn’t seem to have any immediate plans to release their new driverless car technology to the public there are steps being taken in that direction. In fact, Google has been doing its share of lobbying around the states to make their cars legal and lawful to be driven on the road. In 2011 Google lobbied in Nevada for it to become the first state to pass any legislation regarding a driverless or autonomous vehicle in the states. Google was successful with its efforts, and in June of 2011 the first law was passed regarding the operations of a driverless car. The legislation allowed for the testing of driverless cars on public roads. Currently, Nevada, California, and Florida all have laws on the books regarding driverless vehicles. Of course, this technology is not only being tested and used in the US alone. The UK has actually accomplished much in the way of driverless technology.
In an effort to reduce congestion on British roads the government has decided to open them up to driverless cars. However, tests can only be conducted in semi-driverless mode and only on back roads of suburban neighborhoods, not in the big cities. The goal is both to perfect the technology and get drivers used to seeing driverless cars on the road. The UK government recognizes the potential these cars can have to positively impact their nation’s road ways and economy. Investing in this technology actually can help the country as a whole economically, in safety, and vehicle efficiency. But the UK does have some catching up to do with the US.
Over all, Google’s new driverless technology is just in its growing pains and it will no doubt be perfected over the years to come. According to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, realistically a fully driverless car will not be available for a few years but he does expect one to be released within the decade. So look out for a driverless car coming to a dealership near you, but don’t expect it to be cheap, as the technology on the car alone costs upwards of $70,000. As we wait in anticipation we will have to be satisfied with cars that can go over twice the speed of the highest speed limit and plain old boring air condition comfort. Not so bad really.