Driving a car requires a certain set of skills. If not properly operated, cars can be a major threat to people’s safety. Although there are some very skillful and well-versed drivers among people, we are still not perfect. That is why the concept of driverless cars aims to eliminate the risk of human error on public roads.
The idea of driverless cars has been around for over 50 years, but it’s only in recent years that it has become a reality and that we’ve been able to see such a vehicle cruising the streets alongside good old regular cars.
There have been a series of attempts at creating a driverless car in the past couple of decades, some more successful than others. Projects worth mentioning are the European Commission’s EUREKA Prometheus Project, the Carnegie Mellon University Navlab Project, the DARPA Autonomous Land Vehicle (ALV), and the VITA-2 and VaMP vehicles, result of a collaboration between Ernst Dickmanns and Daimler-Benz.
However, none of these vehicles got an official approval and a license for moving in traffic on public roads. That happened only recently in Nevada, which was the first state to have passed a law that will regulate the usage of driverless cars. The law came into effect on March 1, 2012, and the first license for a car that doesn’t require a driver was issued in May.
That car was envisioned and created by Google, which has assembled a group of six Toyota Priuses, a Lexus RX450h and an Audi TT, equipped with cameras, radars and sensors, that have driven over 200,000 miles in total so far. They operate using maps developed by Google’s employees.
At the moment, however, regulations require that there are people in the car, one behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat, so that there is someone to take over control in case something goes wrong with the software.
The plate assigned to these vehicles are completely different from the regular ones, just to make it easier for people to recognize them and don’t get surprised when they see one of them moving along the highway with an empty driver’s seat. They are red and have an infinity symbol on the left side.
While Google and Nevada may be the pioneers of introducing road-legal driverless vehicles to the world, there are other companies that are looking to take it to another level. General Motors, for one, is working on a technology for a semi-autonomous car called “Super Cruise”, that would be implemented on their Cadillacs and that could be fully functional in 5 years. Meanwhile, California is also trying to put together a legal framework for driverless cars and use its high profile to exploit the potential of this new innovation commercially and help promote the concept to a wider audience.
Whether it’s in 5, 10, or 15 years, we can definitely start getting excited about the idea of traveling in cars that drive themselves, which would allow us to feel more confident about getting around in traffic and would increase road safety by overriding human weaknesses and negligence while driving.