When it comes to the future, there are a few technological wonders that generally come to mind: personal jet packs, housekeeping robots and, of course, self-driving cars. Out of these commonly wished for future inventions, self-driving cars are closer than ever to becoming a reality, with numerous advances in recent years and various companies currently conducting exciting research in the area. These are a few of the things happening in the world of self-driving cars.
A Town Built Just for Testing
With all of the research and other work done in closed rooms, the only way to really test the viability of new self-driven car technology is by experimenting in the type of environment where these vehicles will hopefully someday operate: on real streets in a realistic town. That is why researchers a the University of Michigan have built the Mobility Transformation Facility, which is a simulated town centered around a realistic highway designed to fabricate the type of real-world conditions that cars, and drivers, deal with on a daily basis. The plan is to ultimately expand the testing program across a number of facilities in the state to support up to 20,000 vehicles.
New Google Innovations
A decade ago it was difficult to imagine Google as much more than just a popular search engine, but the tech giant has expanded rapidly into the areas of browsers, computer hardware and is now one of the leaders in self-driving car innovation. Google is now testing plastic cars that are powered completely by electric batteries and do not even come with pedals or a steering wheel, as they do all of the work themselves. Although the testing of these cars is being performed in Google’s home turf of California, there is some good news for the heart of the United States auto industry: these cars are built in Detroit.
Volvo Being Ambitious
Although the company’s ownership has changed, the Volvo name is still strongly associated with safety, as it has been for decades. As the Swedish brand is developing its own self-driving vehicles this is potentially reassuring to future buyers apprehensive about a car driving itself. Volvo has launched the “Drive Me” project, which involves testing self-driven cars on public roads in Gothenburg, Sweden. These Volvos being tested are designed to safely navigate city streets and traffic, but for now there is still a driver in each car. The company’s goal is to have dozens of completely driver-free, self-operating cars being tested sometime in the future.
Other Brands Entering the Game
Not surprisingly, other popular car makers do not want to be left out on what is becoming the next big thing in automotive technology. Luxury German manufacturer Mercedes performed an impressive test with a Benz S Class successfully driving itself across 77 miles of German road. Nissan, the company which has been one of the leaders of electric car innovation in recent years, has begun developing a new version of their popular model that not only runs on electricity but also operates autonomously, including driving. However, like most of the testing of self-driven cars, current testing of this new Nissan involves a human in the cabin to ensure safety.
Safety is another department the self-driving car is changing. With algorithms and machines driving our cars, the auto insurance industry must adapt with it. While many are predicting car insurance as we know it will become a thing of the past, Insurance companies everywhere are developing plans and products to deal with the changing landscape.
Journalists everywhere are talking about potential markets that self-driving cars could potentially disrupt. Think about it, these will be cars enabled with mobile internet service, big enough for two adults to sleep in, and low maintenance enough that the passengers are not involved in the driving process. This essentially removes the need for domestic flights, in many cases the need to stay at a hotel and as previously mentioned, the need for insurance. The self-driving car is turning many aspects of the world we know now, obsolete.
With an unprecedented amount of innovation in the field, and multiple tests being run by the world’s biggest vehicle makers and tech companies, it seems like fully autonomous cars cannot be too far off. However, experts are predicting it could still be quite a few years before it is possible to actually sit in the backseat while the car does all the work. Raj Rajkumar, who heads Carnegie Mellon’s transportation research center, says that while the technology is “advancing rapidly,” car buyers will have to wait until sometime in the 2020s to buy a vehicle capable of driving itself before any human assistance.
Like many exciting tech innovations of the 21st century, advances in self-driven cars are likely to be here soon and taking everybody by surprise.
By: Vincent Stokes