So, you know how BMW has always been known for building the “Ultimate Driving Machine” for so many years? Well, the car of the future that was being bragged about in the ’50’s was a self-driving car! Well, more than sixty years later, that brag is starting to come true. There are many auto-makers working on a self-driving car.
Google, a longtime internet search engine has quietly and patiently been working on a self-driven car. The cars they are using are six Toyota Prius’, and an Audi TT. They are currently negotiating with Chevrolet to get a Camaro SS to use for research. The Priii and TT have logged over 140,000 miles in testing. These cars are not allowed to drive by themselves. A manned operator and assistant sit in the driver and passenger seats. The reason that there have to be an operator and assistant in the car is the car might go crazy and create a major car crash. The problem is Google would lose years of valuable data.
Nevada passed a bill on June 24, 2011 that makes self-driving cars legal to drive within the state. An operator must be in the car to make it legal, otherwise the NHP (Nevada Highway Patrol) will pull it over and impound it. Google met with the governor of Nevada, and showed up to every meeting of the Nevada Legislature. They even met with the Nevada state rep!
As Google Software Engineer, Sebastian Thrun said on the Google blog, “According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents. We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half. We’re also confident that self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new “highway trains of tomorrow.” These highway trains should cut energy consumption while also increasing the number of people that can be transported on our major roads. In terms of time efficiency, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that people spend on average 52 minutes each working day commuting. Imagine being able to spend that time more productively.”
You can easily distinguish one of the Google test cars by its roof-mounted laser range finder, which helps it ‘see’ traffic and adjust its speed accordingly. If any of the software ever malfunctions, the operator in the driver’s seat can turn off all the software as easily as a driver turns off cruise control.
Google also has a deal with Apple to supply them with computers. The engineers in the cars take all the information from the car onto a computer, which then sends it all to Google’s Mountain View campus. IBM is also trying to negotiate with President Obama to sign a contract to take out 450 traffic signals around the U.S. and put in “smart” signals. This means that the signals will be able to transfer traffic information around the area to the car. If this does work out, then the Google test cars could find out important information, and take a detour.
So far, the Google cars have gone down Lombard street, gone across the Golden Gate Bridge, gone down to Los Angeles from the Mountain View campus of Google software all the way down Highway 1. They have driven down Rodeo Drive, down Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, and driven through LAX. Wow! I’ve even seen one in Los Angeles! You know what I say, ONLY IN LA!
DARPA has also gotten into the self-driven auto field as well. They host a series of races for self-driven vehicles (none of which Google competed in) across the Mojave desert, and in traffic. Since DARPA is a branch of the military, the races were heavily sponsored by the US Army. More than 10,000 drivers of supply trucks, tanks, jeeps and HUMVEE’s have been killed since 1945. The rate is expected to climb up to almost 300 deaths a year in 2020. So, the Army needs to figure something out. Soon. The Army is currently working on a semi truck to tackle the European Alps in 2013. There is even a documentary on the first DARPA race, titled “NOVA: The Great Robot Race.”
Colorado hosts an annual hill climb at Pikes Peak. The goal is to get up to the peak in the shortest time possible. Let me clarify, the hill-climb is for CARS, not people! At last year’s climb, the Google Audi TT competed. The Google Audi TT did fairly well for something with a radar system. It did a 15 minute, 14.453 second hill climb. Though there was no self-driven class at Pikes Peak, there will be one in 2012. Now I can see why Google asked for that Camaro SS… Google is thinking of taking their Audi TT to Infineon Raceway sometime next summer. They are even thinking of having the car drive itself from Google’s headquarters to Infineon Raceway. Maybe they’ll do it on a track day!
One can only imagine the possibilities! You could have the car take the kids to school, take you to work, go to the market with your wife, and then fuel up! Then pick up the wife and kids, and then you… How fun! Especially if the car could cook all your meals for you! All right, I’ll be quiet now…