Self-Driving Cars: The Future Has Arrived

Posted by By Patty at 2 March, at 16 : 23 PM Print

With the kind of technology we have today, almost anything is possible. We used to just watch flying and self-driving cars on sci-fi and futuristic movies, right? Who would have ever thought they would actually exist today? Well, not flying, but self-driving at least.

In fact, Google’s self-driving cars have been around for about eight years now, with about 12 units in existence. But it was just recently presented to the public at the Texas Transportation Forum in Austin. Tested on a Lexus hybrid, Google’s auto-pilot technology uses a combination of GPS, cameras, rotating laser guidance (roof-mounted) and an accurate mapping system (to determine location and route).

As the company confirmed though, even before the formal presentation of its self-driving technology, they have been using their experimental cars in public alongside ordinary cars for quite some time now without asking permission from any local or state agencies. Not that they can be apprehended anyway because there is neither Austin nor Texan law governing such area. But since it is estimated that self-driving cars may be a common sight 15 years from now, there will, should be and soon. Moreover, the government is said to be reactive than proactive. This means that one mistake from these self-driving cars like hitting a parking meter, water hydrant, or worse, pedestrian, it may be banned even before it is approved.

But Google got into this business in the first place to find out what cars would look like if computers were made before the car, i.e., accuracy. The company’s first priority is safety.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Oxford University released its own version of the self-driving car via the Nissan Leaf electric car. Claiming itself to be more accurate and reliable than Google’s auto-driving technology because the latter is said to become unreliable in areas where mountains and buildings may block signal, the former uses 3D laser scanning allied to computer storage to build up a map of its surroundings and is accurate even up to a few centimeters. The Oxford auto-drive system works by recognizing where it is, based on a laser scanner on the front of the car, comparing its surroundings to its stored data. It could be extended so that each car downloads data from passing cars, or over the internet via 3G and 4G connections to a central system. It can cope with snow, rain and other weather conditions.

The auto drive technology is currently priced at 5,000 Euros. But scientists at the Oxford University are working to reduce it to as low as 100 Euros (US$150) especially since the price of installing the system is dropping.

California, Nevada and Florida have recently passed laws allowing self-driving vehicles to be tested on its roads. But Nevada DMV specified the following requirements before issuing its first license for a driverless car to Google last year: two people must be present – one in the driver’s seat and one in the passenger’s seat – while the vehicle is in use. This is for precautionary measures. While the current transportation code refers only to “a person” operating a vehicle,” an updated version states that “for a vehicle to operate, it must have a licensed driver inside.”

Other companies are said to be developing their own self-driving technologies. The only question now is, What will they think of next?

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