Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Cars that drive themselves

Many of us have dreamed of automated cars since watching Knight Rider in the 1980s.  But the thirst for such technology goes further back than that when a ‘drive-by-wire’ system was being tested by the UK government back in the 1960s.  See here the man reading his book at the wheel of an elegant Citroen DS19!
Look no hands!!

Now we’re well into the 21st century and it seems that cars that drive themselves are not too far away.  Last year Mercedes-Benz and Nissan announced they will be selling a self-driven or ‘autonomous’ car by 2020. And the race to be the first is clearly on with Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors and Toyota also developing technology that would allow cars to steer, brake and accelerate with little or no input from the driver. 

Nissan is reportedly working with universities around the world to develop the technology, and has invested in a test track in Japan that will replicate real life conditions for the self-driven cars being worked on. 

Meanwhile Mercedez-Benz stole the show at the Frankfurt (Germany) Auto Show in September last year with its S500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle. This vehicle had just retraced the first road trip of 103kms taken by the first passenger car (also a Benz) in 1888.

Watch a couple of videos here:

But it’s not just the automakers involved, as of course the need for advanced technology is a large part of the progress. Companies such as Nokia, IBM,  Continental and needless to say Google are just some of the players involved in the push for autonomous driving.

Many cars already have short and long range radars front and rear, and front-facing stereoscopic cameras to detect objects and distances.  The Mercedes vehicle seen at Frankfurt has added colour to the front facing cameras to deted traffic lights, a backwards facing camera to recognize and verify landmarks for more precise vehicle location and lane positioning, and additional front facing radars to better track oncoming traffic.

So while cars get increasingly more computer controlled and technology is advancing at a rapid pace it may just be the nervousness of authorities and insurance companies that are the largest hurdle to self driven cars.

Commuters can dream of being able to legally be on the phone or laptop while travelling to work in their own car. But will the roads be safe with no hands on the wheel?  Or will there be less accidents? What do you think?