Self-Driving Cars Are Finally Here
Imagine getting in your car in the morning and leaving for work, but instead of grabbing the steering wheel you pull out a newspaper, book, or tablet and catch up on news and email while your car drives itself, successfully navigating around traffic, pedestrians and other obstacles while delivering you safely to your destination. This kind of technology may seem far off, but it is a very real possibility and self-driving vehicle prototypes are already on the road today.
Back in 2010, Google announced that it had been developing driverless vehicles in the hopes of eventually transforming transportation. Fully autonomous vehicles could drastically reduce the number of automobile accidents, potentially saving thousands of lives every year. They could also revolutionize car ownership and use, allowing people to save money, lower fuel emissions, and reduce the number of cars on the road, leading to more efficient travel for everyone.
Google recently announced that its self-driving cars have now logged over 300,000 miles of testing, and team members will begin to use the cars individually (instead of in pairs) to commute to work.
Engineers working on the project envision a world of car-sharing, where you could use your cell phone to summon a vehicle from wherever you were at any time. Cars could be used by other drivers instead of being parked all day while one owner is at work. Automated cars would be able to communicate with each other and travel in coordinated routes, easing traffic congestion and saving fuel. And according to experts, this world is not too far off.
Many cars with automatic driving features are already on the road today. An “adaptive cruise control” option which slows down or speeds up based on the car in front of it has been available for years, and companies like General Motors, Ford, and BMW are already working on a more advanced “super cruise” version that would steer automatically in slow traffic.
There are also cars with the ability to park themselves and automatically apply brakes when an object is detected. Much of the technology needed to make fully-automated vehicles a reality already exists, it is simply a matter of making it available and practical to the public. This is what Google is working on.
“[The self-driving cars] have covered a wide range of traffic conditions, and there hasn't been a single accident under computer control,” says engineering lead, Chris Urmson, “we're encouraged by this progress, but there's still a long road ahead. To provide the best experience we can, we’ll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter.”
Urmson continues, “with each breakthrough we feel more optimistic about delivering this technology to people and dramatically improving their driving experience.”
Industry experts believe driverless vehicles could be available for purchase by the public in as little as 8 to 10 years, and several states have already passed legislation allowing these advances. A world free of the majority of automobile accidents and sitting in stressful traffic may be just down the road.+8
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