Sunday, April 1, 2012

Autonomous Vehicles - The Future is HERE.

This week a legally blind man took a drive to Taco Bell to pick up some food. He did it with a self-driving car.  It may sound like science fiction but it's one step closer to reality.  Here are the details as discussed on CNN: 

This particular project took place to celebrate a milestone. Google has successfully logged 200,000 miles from their self-driving cars. But this project was an especially epic mile and a half of the ongoing journey.

Steve Mahan became the first non-Google employee to drive one of their cars and he is legally blind. For a man that has lost 95% vision and relies on others to make trips- he had a car drive him to Taco Bell and the Cleaners.

And, yes, this was legal. Google partnered with the local police department and had a designated course. There was also someone in the passenger seat at all times with the capability to override – kind of like a drivers ed car.

You might be wondering how does the vehicle operate? Well, there are a number of technologies at work. Without getting too technical, here are a few things happening:

A route is programmed into the car. A rotating sensor on the top of the car scans the vehicles surroundings 360 degrees- evaluating as far as an estimated 200 feet in each direction.  Radar and sensors are in the front and rear of the vehicle and a video camera on the front window detects streetlights, traffic and pedestrians.

Google stated this project was outside their core research efforts but a promising look at what the technology could one day offer.

Are there self-driving cars on the road now? 
A number of car manufacturers have been working on self driving cars. GM has predicted that the technology will be ready by the end of the decade.

Google started the self-driving project, and it has been operational since 2010. And as noted, 200,000 miles have been completed (mostly by a fleet of Prius vehicles in California).

If you want to try and spot one –look for roof mounted technologies and a red license plate.  But note, someone is always behind the wheel in case of emergency.

Nevada is the first state to approve a program to permit self-driving cars on the road in the future. Expect more states to be on board soon.

Autonomous tech implementations have been gradual with the build up of advanced safety features - from blind spot warnings and collision alerts to assisted parking.  But just imagine taking it up a notch ---having an extra set of eyes to do the work and eliminate crashes or better a car able to drop you off, park for you and come back to pick you up.  The point is to make the roads safer and more efficient.

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Copyright © 2012 Katie Linendoll