An autonomous car is a vehicle that is able to move without a driver. Theses vehicles are classified as a self-driving car or a robotic car capable of transporting passengers without the aid of a human driver. Instead of human input, these vehicles use sensors like radar, lidar, GPS and computers to navigate. These systems sense the surroundings, determine obstacles within their path, use maps to determine a route to take. They also keep track of the position the vehicle is and can recalculate when conditions change.
Autonomous is another term for automated. The difference being that automated refers to the vehicle being operated by a machine, where as autonomous refers the vehicle being operated independently or by itself. Many major automobile manufacturers have a working prototype, autonomous vehicle. Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and Audi, all have a working unit. Other companies also have developed their own version such as Continental Automotive Systems, Autoliy Inc. Bosch, Vislab from the University of Parma, Oxford University and Google.
In 2010, Vislab funded a successful project where four electric autonomous vans drove from Italy to China. A total of 8,000 miles were covered. Four US states, as of 2013, have passed laws allowing the operation of autonomous vehicles, Nevada, Florida, California and Michigan.
Benefits of autonomous vehicles include, fewer traffic collisions (eliminates driver error), reduce traffic congestion (better traffic flow), reducing commute times (higher speed limits), and reduce driver fatigue for a more comfortable ride. Finding a parking space would not be a problem as the vehicle could drop off the passenger, find a parking spot and return when the passenger is ready to be picked up. Other benefits that may be incorporated from the use of fully autonomous vehicles are, reduction of traffic police or vehicle insurance.
Although there are many benefits from the autonomous vehicle, there are also some adversity with the technology. They include damage liability, resistance from drivers still wanting to control their vehicle, software malfunction, vehicle computer viruses and security, loss of driver and other related jobs needed for vehicles of today.
Autonomous vehicles rely mainly on lane markings for navigation so safety concerns include, cars not being able to interpret faded, missing or snow covered markings, unable to navigate through construction zones, avoiding obstacles or debris on the roadway.
The first driverless car was developed by Houdina Radio Control called the “linrrican Wonder” in 1925. It was demonstrated on the New York streets of Broadway and Fifth Avenue through a traffic jam. It was operated by radio waves transmitted from another car following it. In December 1926, Achen Motor used the same technology to demonstrate a vehicle named “Phantom Auto” in Milwaukee, Wisconson; then again in June 1932 during Bigger Bargain Day on the streets of Fredericksburg.
General Motors in 1939 at the World’s Fair, sponsored an electric car operated by circuits embedded in the road and operated by radio waves. RCA Labs produced a miniature vehicle that was controlled by wires on the laboratory floor in 1953. This lead to a successful project in Nebraska in 1958, on a 400-foot section of road near Lincoln. In cooperation with GM the project used radio receivers to control steering, acceleration and braking.
A project was launched in 1960 by Ohio State University’s Communication and Control Systems Laboratory to develop driver-less cars using electronic devices in the roadway and that the system could be implicated and installed on public roads by the 1980s.
During the 1980s Mercedes-Benz, the University of Maryland, Carnegie Mellon University, the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan, Martin Marietta and SRI International all had projects developing autonomous vehicles.
The United States Congress passed a bill in 1991 that instructed the USDOT to “demonstrate an automated vehicle and highway system by 1997.” The project was completed and on I-15 in San Diego, California, 20 automated vehicles that included cars, busses and trucks were demonstrated. Toyota and Honda also presented their automated vehicles as well.
Other autonomous projects include a semi-automated test in 1994 in Paris for 620 with speeds up to 81 mph with some human intervention. In 1995 Mercedes-Benz went 990 miles from Munich, Germany to Copenhagen, Denmark and back reaching speeds over 100 mph with human intervention for only 5.6 miles.
Also in 1995 a 3,100 mile trip across America was done by Carnegie Mellon University with steering completely done by automation. Brakes and acceleration was done by human intervention.
Numerous other projects have been developed and by 2013 manufacturers including GM, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, BMW and Volvo are testing autonomous vehicles.
The first self-driving vehicle for commercial sale was developed by Induct Technology. Released in January 2014, the Navia is a fully automatic shuttle to transport up to eight people around airports, theme parks, campuses, hospitals and complexes with a large amount of pedestrian traffic. It is an open-air electric vehicle limited to 12.5 mph that resembles a golf cart.
The future of autonomous vehicles is as follows:
By late 2014, Volvo will feature a vehicle with steer assist to automatically follow the car ahead. By 2015, Audi, Cadillac, GM, and Nissan plan to have vehicles with autonomous steering, braking and lane guidance. Nissan plans a driverless parking system. By 2016, Mobileye expects to have fully autonomous car technology. By 2018, Google plans to have this technology.
By 2020 cars equipped with autonomous technology will be offered for sale by Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Nissan and BMW. By 2025, Daimler and Ford will also sell autonomous vehicles. And by 2035 most vehicles on the road will be operated solely by autonomous systems independent from human control.
Image Caption: Nissan autonomous car prototype (using a Nissan Leaf electric car) exhibited at the Geneva Motor Show 2014 (photo taken on the first press day). Credit: Norbert Aepli, Switzerland/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)