Where’s My Autonomous Car?

April 5, 2012 at 1:19 am Leave a comment

Hello MAT 120!

I can’t believe we are nearing the end of the semester, and I thank you for checking out the blog! This week I wanted to discuss a topic I am sure we have all heard about at some point in time: the autonomous car.

The recent video about Google’s autonomous car driving Steve Mahan around town posted below has been viral lately. Steve Mahan has lost 95% of his vision, but Google’s autonomous car allows him to “drive” to complete all of his errands.

This video makes it pretty clear that Google’s autonomous car project is fairly successful at this point, so why don’t we see autonomous car’s everywhere? A recent interview conducted by Wired Magazine with many autonomous car experts provided some insights to this very question.

Wired asked the panel of experts, first what needs to happen in order for consumers to see more autonomous cars on the road. Sven Beiker, co-director, Center for Automotive Research, Stanford University explained that the day where we give complete control to cars is still at least a decade away. Beiker points out that even airplanes with “autopilot” still have two experts in the cockpit review all of the gauges and flight schedules the entire flight.

Stefan Liske, an auto industry consultant at PCH discussed how the technology within the autonomous cars will lead to vast efficiency in heavily traveled areas such as Los Angles. Autonomous vehicles drive at an efficiency which can drastically reduce pollution and commute times, but As Liske points out cities must develop roads and infrastructure that supports autonomous vehicles. Liske points out the development costs of preparing cities for autonomous vehicles as a major factor in the consumer adoption of the new technology.

With this idea in mind some communities are starting their development plans to support the future influx of autonomous cars. One such place in Babcock Ranch Florida, which has created a road map for an extremely futuristic community. Visit their website to learn more about their three phase project to include autonomous cars as the main for of transportation through the community. http://www.babcockranchflorida.com/autonomous_vehicles.asp.

Wired later asked the panel what are the risks involved with giving the autonomous car full control and received a mixed bag of answers. Donald Norman, consultant and author of The Design of Future Things, points out that when an airplane’s autopilot fails pilots often have a couple of minutes to correct the issue as the plane will not immediately crash. Pilots are also trained experts who are experienced in that specific type of situation. In contrast, in the world of autonomous vehicles if an object we to suddenly appear in front of an autonomous car the untrained driver would have very little time to react, which is a major risk.

Beiker also discusses how the drivers are very used to the ability to speed and break minor traffic laws. The world of autonomous vehicles would prevent this from happening. It will take sometime for drivers to adapt to this new safe driving style.

Overall, significant progress has been made in the world of autonomous cars and many of the features that are involved in a successful drive in a Google Prius are found in many new cars today: lane departure alert, auto parking, adaptive cruise control and all semi-autonomous features. I personally foresee that we will slowly adapt to these autonomous features and one day will be driving autonomous cars without even knowing it!

I hope you enjoyed the article!

Best,

Paul

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