What if you could sit in the driver’s seat and cruise down the road without a single thought about actually driving the car? Just maybe taking people out of the driving equation could be the biggest safety initiative in history.
Some experts expect driverless cars to hit America's roadways by 2030, while test sites are cropping up much sooner. According to sources at NBC News, the University of Michigan, and state government officials aim to have a 32-acre driverless car test site running by September, just in time for a global conference on intelligent transportation systems. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder joined new GM CEO Mary Barra at the Detroit auto show and outlined plans for the Mobility Transformation Facility, a $6.5 million site that will offer a simulated urban environment with roads, intersections, building facades, traffic circles and a hill.
The concept of driverless cars originally emerged with anti-lock brakes that shouldered the load for braking in hazardous conditions, reducing driver error and leading to fewer accidents. Then came the added sophistication of traction and stability control. Today’s cars are now equipped with rear cameras and bumper sensors. Seems a like next step is having the car drive itself.
At the International Consumer Electronics Show this January in Las Vegas, BMW and Audi unveiled their latest driverless car technology and conducted demonstration drives. Nevada is one of a few states where it's legal to test drive autonomous cars, though it requires a person to sit in the driver's seat at all times.
BMW demonstrated its latest self-driving technology on a modified 2 Series Coupe.
The car uses steering, breaking and throttle to control acceleration, deceleration and direction in very small, exact amounts. The demonstration is just one aspect of the technical building blocks required to make a self-driving car. There are also sensors, environmental modeling and decision and driving strategy technologies that BMW is working on.
Audi is particularly proud of decreasing the size of its computer systems, which previously filled the entire trunk of the car, into a box that's mounted inside the glove compartment. In the future, the system could be used for key automated-driving tasks like traffic sign recognition, lane departure warnings and pedestrian spotting.
Car makers agree that while there are many technical issues ahead, they may not be the most daunting obstacles self-driving cars face. Autonomous driving features are at least seven to 10 years away from becoming commercially available. The technology inside the cars is developing fast, but the auto industry will need at least that much time to sort out a tangle of non-hardware and software issues to clear the way for the cars.
Researchers and makers of driverless cars say the technology will be far safer than people-driven vehicles because they eliminate unpredictable human errors like distracted or drunk driving and poor reactions to emergency situations.
Insurance and liability are particular tricky. If a car driving itself gets into an accident resulting in damages or injuries, who is responsible? The driver who was watching Netflix on a state-of-the-art car entertainment system, or the manufacturer that designed the car?
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