Back in the 80‘s, television shows such as ‘Tomorrow’s World’ predicted the technological future with bizarre items such as self driving cars and holidaying on Mars. Today, the elusive ‘tomorrow’ has finally arrived with Google’s first actual self driving car, which is certainly not to be confused with modified vehicles built by other manufacturers.
The car itself looks like a bigger version of something your 4 year would push around on his bedroom floor, yet despite its cute toylike appearance, there is nothing juvenile about the technology within.
We’re really excited about this vehicle,” says Chris Urmson, director of the company’s self-driving project, “it’s something that will allow us to really push the capabilities of self driving technology, and understand the limitations.
The dinky ground breaking car has capacity for two people. Its propulsion will be electric and initially it will be limited to 25mph (40km/h) to help ensure safety which is a key factor to this little car. Other safety features include a soft foam-like material replacing a traditional bumper and a more flexible windscreen designed to reduce injuries.
The most significant (and ever so slightly scary) thing about the design is that it does not have any controls at all apart from a large red stop/go button. However for early testing, extra controls will be fitted so Google’s test drivers can take over should a problem occur.
But should we expect problems to occur in a vehicle that we put our lives completely in the hands of? Does such forward thinking, cutting edge technology come at a price?
Sven Beiker, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford, cautions that driverless cars may still require human input in extreme circumstances.
This could be particularly dangerous in an emergency situation where the computer does not know how to react, and asks for input from a human who is passed out on the back seat after a skinful at the pub!
The car however continues to go through rigorous testing. Google recently announced that its self driving cars had covered 700,000 miles of public roads in autonomous mode, and that they were now testing and tackling the tricky problem of busy city streets. And advocates claim that autonomous cars have the potential to revolutionise transport by making roads safer, eliminating crashes, and decreasing congestion and pollution. The Department for Transport statistics record that last year 1,754 people were killed on our roads with a further 170,784 suffering injuries and 23,039 sustaining life changing injuries – so vehicles on the road eliminating a percentage of these numbers would be a very welcome addition on our roads.
So how does it work?
Well simply put, the vehicle will use a combination of laser and radar sensors along with camera data to drive autonomously. And to call this little car to heel, all you need is your smartphone at your location with the destination set – Its really just a taxi without having to endure bad jokes and the drivers life history!
The company plans to build a fleet of around 200 of the cars in Detroit, with the hope of using them as an autonomous technology test bed.
We’ll see these vehicles on the road within the year, says Mr Urmson.
Form an orderly queue people!