It was once envisioned that by the 2000’s people would be flying to work and living on different planets. The future held runways instead of garages and the 52nd state was to be Mars. Unfortunately, today people still drive themselves to work in cars not a flying apparatus, and the only thing living on another planet is the Mars rover Curiosity. But the part about people driving themselves might soon be a relic of the past. In 1939 Norman Bel Gaddes in a partnership with General motors showed off the first prototype for an autonomous vehicle (Are Self-Driving Cars Safe? , 2012). Unfortunately his idea was too early to ever truly come to fruition, but it is that idea that could lead to one of the greatest revisions of the automobile since the seatbelt. Semi or fully-autonomous vehicles are currently being developed by some of the greatest thinkers in the world. Google has been experimenting with and using them for several years in contained situations as have many auto manufacturers. Mr. Gaddes would be amazed by the leaps this technology has made in just this decade. While concerns with the legislation, liability and market acceptance could stall this technology, fully and semi-autonomous vehicles are the future for a quicker, safer and more efficient means of transport.
Autonomous vehicles are split into two categories semi and fully autonomous. Most of the technology needed to make a car semi-autonomous already exists. Drive-by-wire systems take the mechanical connection between the driver and the car away. In a very literal sense drivers can operate the throttle and steering through wired connections. The movements of the steering wheel and the position of the acceleration pedal are sent through a computer before ever being sent to the throttle or steering system, yet most drivers could never tell the difference (Del-Colle, 2013). Most people have either seen a commercial or personally experienced semi-autonomous vehicle operation with the introduction of self-parking options on some modern cars. The process is simple: the driver finds a spot to parallel park, pulls up to the car ahead of his or her spot and aligns the wheels even to the parked cars. The system will notify the driver when it is ready to take over, then simply let go of the wheel and control the brakes, the car does the rest. These technologies are only a few that are relevant to semi-autonomous vehicles and most still need fine tuning and more testing, but you can expect semi-autonomous vehicles commercially available within this decade.
Fully-autonomous vehicles will use similar technology just more advanced versions and could be on the road in the next twenty to twenty five years. These vehicles will also use similar technology being used by Google. The technology used today by Google was originally developed by Velodyne. It is a sonar or radar like system called Lidar. Lidar uses voxels to measure a point in space and is accurate down to...