You’re Not In The Driver’s Seat: The Development Of Driver-less Vehicles
Remember seeing Captain Kirk in Star Trek talking to the other crew members of the Starship Enterprise on his ‘communicator’? How about Dick Tracy’s watch where you could see the person you were speaking with on the other line? We once thought this was the stuff of Popular Science. Now, almost all of us have small cell phones, iPads where we can use Skype to see and talk with anyone around the world and other technological ‘stuff’ that even we could not imagine a few years ago. These new inventions are better than science fiction.
The next big thing…Development Of Driver-less Vehicles.
This will not happen immediately, but maybe by 2020 the first one will appear and driver-less vehicles could be common place by 2040, according to some forecasters. At the forefront is Google, thinking very long term. It has been equipping cars that can drive themselves and using ‘test tracks’ as U.S.1 in California, Lombard St. in San Francisco and other urban settings without any problems. Other car manufacturers such as Toyota and Audi are developing prototypes.
Presently, there are many ‘smart’ gadgets in automobiles such as those that park themselves or tell the driver that (s)he is running over to the other lane or installed GPS navigation systems. Fully automated buses are operating on some Bus Rapid Transit Systems. (Bus Rapid Transit is a traffic lane devoted exclusively to public transit vehicles.)
Experts state that the challenge is to get all these components to communicate together and develop a fleet of driver-less vehicles. These self-driving cars are using existing technology such as LIDAR (laser imaging), laser distancing devises, mobile communication, GPS navigation, Geographic Information Systems, Artificial Intelligence and cloud-based computing/networking. These technologies are not new, but well developed.
The implications of such a technology for our nation’s transportation will be revolutionary. This could mean fewer accidents, decreasing congestion, less stress, more efficient use of public transportation, mobility for disadvantaged groups, such as the elderly or the disabled, and energy savings. There are multiple future implications for driver-less trucks, taxis, and farm equipment. The overall social and economic impacts may be equivalent to the Interstate System.
Here is a scenario that might happen soon.
You get in the morning and leisurely take your first cup of coffee. You have to get to work by 8:00 a.m. and also have to drop off your children at school before heading into work.
You don’t warm up your car. You don’t even have to think about the car. Instead, last night, you put in your schedule, destinations and desired arrival time through your mobile device which communicates with a driver-less vehicle service. Your devise tells you what time that the vehicle will arrive at your house. You may choose a ride alone, shared-ride system or one coordinated with public transit; the latter two would be cheaper.
A vehicle silently pulls up to your house; as it is a hybrid-electric. You and your children get in. Meanwhile, going to your respective destinations, you listen to music, work on preparations, call people, and watch the news on a monitor, etc. while your children may be already be receiving information for their upcoming day. There is no congestion because your vehicle is communicating with other automated vehicles.
This will not happen tomorrow. Nevertheless, the possibility is real enough that three states: Nevada, Florida and California have already made driver-less cars legal. There are some potential liability problems. Although these vehicles have a driver override, the driver is still the responsible agent.
Google is leading the way in driver-less vehicles, and the auto manufacturers who are at the forefront are Audi and Toyota. Where are the U.S. car manufacturers? Furthermore,there is no evidence that the U.S. government is supporting research in this area.
This may seem like a Buck Rogers idea. However, who could have dreamed that a decade ago that many people would abandon their land lines for cell phones?
Image Credit: Bloomberg News. Forbes