It seemed like a joke at first—a driverless car that can take you anywhere you want to go. Before long, the joke became a novelty, a mobile curiosity cooked up in the Google garage by people who had way too much time and money on their hands.
Then other players got into the game, announcing their own plans to produce electric powered, fully autonomous automobiles—cars predicted to make today’s gas guzzling polluters a thing of the past.
Driverless cars may have started out as a joke, but they are destined to become the future. And no one in the auto industry is laughing.
What is the current state of driverless car technology? Let’s kick some tires and take a look.
Over the last six years, Google’s driverless cars have logged well over 2 million miles, with half of those miles being traveled in automated mode. Keeping the fleet close to its Mountain View headquarters, Google is putting the cars through the paces on private tracks, highways, and city streets. And a few self-driving cars sporting the Google logo have recently been spotted in Austin, Texas.
To handle technology failures or potentially dangerous situations, Google drivers sit ready to take control of the car should the need arise. During the journey, a second Google driver takes copious notes on various traffic scenarios that need further study and problems that need fixing.
Up until now, Google has installed and tested its automation technology in existing cars, such as the Toyota Prius and various Lexus models. But now Google is gearing up to have its own proprietary and odd looking driverless cars produced in Detroit, with plans to roll out 200 vehicles for extensive roadway testing in California in the very near future. Should the design and technology prove successful, Google envisions a partnership that would some day bring the car into production.
Barring regulatory problems that might hold things up, Google foresees large-scale adoption of driverless cars across the United States by the year 2020.
Never one to be left in the dust when it comes to innovative technology, Mercedes Benz has been testing its version of a driverless car on public roads in California since 2014. The company’s latest incarnation, the F015 Luxury in Motion driverless car, was introduced in January 2015 at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Envisioned by Mercedes engineers as more of a “mobile living space” than a means of transport, the F015 concept car is a platform for illustrating the types of future technologies that may one day become standard in Mercedes Benz’s production cars. Mercedes imagines more opportunity for a road trip planner as the car is more about experience than transport.
Using the all-electric Leaf as a self-driving vehicle platform, Nissan has been conducting driverless testing in both Japan and California since October 2013. Like most other automobile companies, Nissan plans to commercialize driverless technology in stages, and also has set a 2020 target date for a fully autonomous car that can navigate busy city intersections.
Showing its commitment to make driverless cars a reality, Nissan recently announced a five-year research and development partnership with NASA geared toward advancing and commercializing autonomous vehicle technology.
Back in 2004, Audi’s first foray in driverless technology began on a desert track outside of Barstow, California. The event was the DARPA Grand Challenges. Audi entered a single self-driver in a field of fifteen, but none of the cars could successfully navigate the desert’s rugged terrain.
Fast forward to January 2015, when Audi’s piloted driving system in an A7 Sportback successfully and autonomously drives the car some 560 miles on a highway route between Palo Alto, California and Las Vegas. Along with the ability to accelerate, brake, and carry out lane changes and passing maneuvers automatically, Audi’s driverless car is also equipped with multiple warning systems, allowing a behind-the-wheel passenger to become the driver in city environments.
While Audi recognizes that true driverless cars are still years away, the company plans to introduce certain autonomous features, such as “traffic jam technology” where automated driving kicks in when traffic is moving under 37 mph, within two to three years.
No conversation about the state of car technology is complete without mention of Tesla Motors. Already known as a designer and manufacturer of premium electric vehicles featuring advanced power and battery capabilities, Tesla is building its cars with automation in mind. Instead of mechanics making physical alterations to allow Tesla’s Model S cars to run in what Tesla refers to as “autopilot” mode, this capability will come via software updates. In other words, when the future of driverless cars finally arrives, Tesla will already be there.
With all of these car companies and more heavily investing in driverless car technology, right now you may be thinking, “Sounds great, but what about all of those regulatory roadblocks?”
On a recent visit to the Frankfurt Auto Show, Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation stated in an interview that he is “very optimistic with respect to driverless cars and expects to see them in use everywhere in the world within 10 years.” http://www.driverless-future.com/
Driverless cars are clearly no joke and the chances are very good that they will arrive in our lives a lot sooner than we think.
For a more in depth look at the state of driverless car technology, as shown on a recent CBS news program, click on this link: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/hands-off-the-wheel/