In the past, driverless cars were just a concept, today however, modern technology has turned the concept into a reality. Nearly every major car manufacturer in the world is now part of the driverless car industry.
Driverless cars use what is called Lidar sensors in order to operate. These sensors emit light waves in every direction surrounding the car. These light waves will bounce off any object that is near the vehicle and return this information to the sensor. The sensor then measures the distance between the driverless car and the object in question. Information is passed back and forth between objects and the car’s sensors at a rate of millions of times per second. Light waves create an instant 3D map that is constantly updating so that the car will know when objects are nearby.
A driverless car is one that can navigate itself to a specific destination, avoiding any obstacles in its path along the way an then park at that destination with no human intervention whatsoever. To make this possible, driverless cars must use artificial intelligence. These artificial intelligence systems are what sense their surroundings and process this information, passing it back to the car and telling it what it needs to do in order to avoid collisions. The artificial intelligence system also operates the machinery within the car, like the brakes and steering wheel and it uses a GPS system within the vehicle to track its location and to move it along to its destination.
In order to properly view their surroundings, most driverless cars have three visual systems. These include a video camera system, radar and the use of lidar sensors. The artificial intelligence system will use information from each of these three systems in order to map out the surroundings of the car and to look out for any obstacles that may be in its path. Some driverless cars however, like the Model 3 from Tesla, do not use lidar, but instead rely on the other two camera and radar systems in order to operate. However, you should note that this and other similar models are not truly driverless cars. There is some human interaction needed to operate the vehicle safely.
Experts believe that until artificial intelligence is improved and sophisticated enough to avoid all obstacles, governments are not likely to allow all driverless cars to be on the roads. For instance, if a driverless car cannot drive through a school crossing without posing a risk to children going across the road, governments are not likely to embrace this technology.
So what are the benefits of driverless cars, beside the obvious not having to drive everywhere scenario? Driverless cars can allow commuters to take power naps while on their way to work. They can allow drivers to finish their presentations or other work or even watch television while traveling to their destinations. Instead of spending hours on the road, the driver would simply be spending hours at work or relaxing while they are traveling. This can come in handy for those taking family vacations, as well.
At least a majority of automobile manufacturers have thought about driverless cars. Most car brands are currently concerned with just how safe these cars can be. Nobody wants to be the brand that caused a fatal accident with their driverless car, so until all of the kinks are ironed out, it is unlikely that completely driverless cars will be readily available for purchase at your neighborhood car dealer. Many ride sharing companies, like Lyft and Uber, have discussed making their taxis driver free, which would enable the companies to earn more revenue because they are not going to be required to pay drivers. Instead, they will simply purchase driverless cars to do all of their taxiing back and forth. Uber has announced plans to have at least a portion of their taxis driverless in just the next year.
Ford is a major manufacturer that has expressed interest in incorporating driverless cars into networks that can track traffic conditions and parking. With this information, driverless Ford cars would be able to reach their destinations much faster than other vehicles on the road. Ford would, in this scenario, be selling driverless cars to ride sharing companies or delivery companies. They have already established partnerships with a number of major brand companies in order to deliver products in driverless cars to gauge the reaction of the public to such a concept.
Driverless cars can be found nearly everywhere, in testing at least. Many national and state governments are allowing road testing in some cases, although most testing is currently being done on designated testing tracks. In the United States alone, 33 states have legislation in place that allow for testing of driverless cars. Only a few of those however are allowing for testing on actual roadways.
In Europe, many car manufacturers have begun testing driverless cars. Germany recently began allowing car manufacturer Volkswagen to begin testing cars that can park themselves at the airport in Hamburg. In Stockholm, Volvo has been testing driverless cars and driverless buses and in the Netherlands, a zipcar service is testing driverless cars in a number of cities. In the United Kingdom, a UK Autodrive Initiative has been put into place to test driverless technology. The government has begun a three year review of this technology in order to gauge safety and has not yet allowed these cars to be on public roadways. Countries in Asia, including Japan and China, have begun allowing car companies to test their driverless taxis but only with a human behind every wheel.
Nearly every automobile manufacturer in the world has gotten onboard with this technology. Ford, Toyota, Volvo, BMW, GM, Honda and Nissan, just to name a few, have been developing driverless technology for years, working with various tech developers like Intel and Nvidia. Car manufacturers are currently selling these vehicles to companies like Uber and Google’s Waymo. These companies in turn then install their own artificial intelligence technology to work with the driverless technology in an attempt to make these cars safer and more efficient.
Inconsistencies in the technology has led to a number of accidents. Recently, an Uber car that was driverless in Arizona caused a fatal accident, which led to the governor of Arizona to suspend the testing of driverless cars throughout the state. Nvidia voluntarily suspended testing on these vehicles after that accident was reported. Uber had previously done work that included a patented way to prevent passengers from experiencing motion sickness prior to the accident. Their sensory simulation system could adjust seat and air flow in the cars that helped to make it more comfortable for riders and thus, eliminate motion sickness. Uber also outlined how cars could signal those on the road with flashing lights or with a text display on the bumpers of driverless cars. This technology could help to signal pedestrians to move out of the way and avoid fata accidents like the one that happened in Arizona.
General Motors has announced that they plan to begin testing cars in Manhattan in 2018. Given the traffic in New York, this is definitely a mountain that driverless car companies will need to be able to mount in order to offer their cars to the public. GM announced that its Chevy Volts will have insurance policies in the amount of $5 million each in order to compensate for any accidents and those cars are not permitted at the moment to enter into construction or school zones. If and when those vehicles pass this test, GM expects its artificial intelligence system to be powerful enough for their popular Chevy Cruise and states that this will be a completely driverless car, being build completely without a gas pedal or a steering wheel.
Apple has been testing driverless cars, although a bit under wraps. Recent patents from Apple show that they have developed a plan to install virtual reality devices into driverless cars. These devices will be used to keep passengers entertained while they are traveling to their destinations. Apple provided the devices to Lexus, although they have not yet stated how close they may be to making these devices public or how they plan to incorporate them into driverless cars in the future. Samsung has also gotten in on the technology, receiving permission from the DMV in California to test driverless vehicles. Huawei has also thrown their virtual hats into the ring, showing earlier this year a driverless car that they have developed that can be operated completely from a camera that stores data in a smartphone. Lyft and Uber are definitely names to watch when it comes to driverless cars. Neither plans to be outdone by the other and Lyft launched its own driverless division in 2017. They have teamed up with giant Ford and automobile parts manufacturer Magna in an attempt to develop a driverless car to use for their taxi service.