It’s happening, folks. The more accident-free miles Google’s fleet of driverless cars clock up, the closer we are to seeing consumer models hitting the streets.
The legislation to allow driverless cars on public roads has been in place in many US states for a number of years now, and we’ll see autonomous vehicles trialled on UK roads for the first time this year.
Although the technology is the stuff of science fiction, it still struggles to identify things like potholes in the road, and can’t quite cope with giving right of way in certain circumstances (a bit like when four real-life British drivers all approach a mini-roundabout at the same time…)
So how the heck do driverless cars work?
Google currently has a fleet of over 20 SUVs, each of which is loaded with laser and radar sensors that it uses to navigate its way around by creating a real-time 3D map of its surroundings.
As it roams the streets, each car’s on-board computer categorises the surrounding objects into one of four areas: buildings, parked cars, moving objects (cars, pedestrians, cyclists, etc.) and static objects (curbs, street signs, etc.) – and so far advanced is the technology, it can even read stop signs and those used by school crossing guards.
And if you’re still not sold on the technology, Google’s driverless cars have clocked up over 700,000 accident miles between them.
2020 vision: To infinity, and beyond
So if driverless cars are definitely on the way, what else can we expect from the cars of the future?
- Flying cars – the staple of sci-fi from the 50s and beyond, the flying car is getting closer to take off thanks to the tireless work of Slovakian engineer, Štefan Klein, whose wildly impressive Aeromobil 2.5 can be seen in the video below…
- Grow your own cars – Biome is a new Mercedes-Benz concept that has a bio-fiber cloth body, with panels harvested from organically-grown, genetically-modified trees. Similarly, Honda’s Air concept has vegetable-based body panels. The future is definitely looking good for any well-heeled eco-warriors out there.
- Energy-producing body panels – Toyota’s Nori concept has built-in solar panels that generate supplemental power whenever the car is in sunlight. Perhaps this isn’t one for the UK market.
- Transparent dashboard panels – The sweeping black plastic dashboard will be a thing of the past, replaced with a transparent OLED panel that will give a better range of vision while still showing all of the important stuff on the display.
- Living room on the move – Once cars are driving themselves, there’ll be no need for traditional front facing seats, so cars will instead be kitted out with rotating lounge chairs. That means that all passengers could sit opposite each other, and getting from A-Z could be a whole different experience.
- Communicating cars – This is a technology that is already well on the way, and vital to the future success of driverless cars. In the future all vehicles will talk to each other – the idea is that cars will communicate to avoid accidents,. But what happens when they’ve had enough of the daily commute and decide enough is enough and stage a boycott against the human race?
The rise of the machines is not that far away – you heard it here first!