Google recently hit the 2.4 million
milestone. That is not a milestone in searches per second or revenue per hour
but in how many kilometres their driverless cars have driven in fully
autonomous mode. On 29 June 2011, Nevada was the first US State to pass a law
to allow autonomous vehicles and now, with a total of nine areas in the US that
allow these vehicles, Google’s 23 vehicles have clocked up 2.4 million
kilometres in driverless mode. Google is not the first nor are they the only
company that has a focus on autonomous vehicles with many companies having
tried and still trying to produce the first driverless car that will sit in a
showroom ready for purchase.
The technology in these vehicles is
incredible but how does it translate to the vehicles we are driving here in
Australia today. While it may be some time (ten years would be my estimation)
before driverless vehicles are accepted in the mainstream, there are many
aspects of technology in cars that we are using right now and can take
Cars that people are driving now have
advanced technology features such as radar-controlled cruise control; automatic
high-beam control; rain-sensing windscreen wipers; radar controlled braking; Anti-Lock
Braking Systems (ABS); 360-degree camera views; parking sensors; rear-view
cameras; lane change detection; headlights that turn into corners; start-stop
engines; head-up displays; speed alert GPS systems linked to the current road
and the list goes on. As you drive through the streets today, these are all
technologies that are making our cars safer and, whilst they aren’t all
necessarily perfect and there are people who prefer not to use some of these
technologies in their cars, the process of innovation is typically iterative
rather than via a light-bulb. Each of these technologies that are present in
our cars today is being used and refined and improved and the logical final
outcome is that we will have cars that drive themselves.
The innovation that is occurring is two-way.
There are some aspects of driverless cars that have been specifically produced
for the concept cars that are now in mainstream vehicles. As an example, the
radar features in mainstream cars are a subset of the advanced LIDAR (Light
Detection and Ranging) that is essential for driverless cars and feedback from
many technological aspects mentioned above in mainstream cars are constantly
being refined and then utilised in driverless cars.
Many people are concerned about safety
aspects of driverless cars but, even at this early stage of their development,
I would prefer to have a driverless car beside me rather than a tired human
driver in a rush to get his or her destination.