Google, as a pioneer of some of the more advanced self-driving automobile technologies, says that computer-navigated cars are safer than manually operated automobiles. But will the public embrace such vehicles? Autonomous cars are already being operated in California, Nevada, Florida and certain areas within the United Kingdom.
At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Toyota and Audi unveiled their prototypes to sell to regular car buyers, while Ford and Mercedes-Benz are working on their own self-driving technology.
Legislation within the United States has already paved the way for autonomous cars to be tested on private roads. Once these cars are made available to the public, legislators will begin the task of revising driving laws and may need to reconsider how drivers earn their licenses.
Although the technology differs depending on the manufacturer, in the Google autonomous vehicle, a number of components are working in concert to enable the vehicle to move safely. At the heart of the system is a laser range finder mounted on the roof of the car.
This laser generates a detailed 3D map of the environment. The car then combines these laser measurements with established high-resolution maps of the world. The vehicle also employs other sensors in its technology. Radars mounted on the front and rear bumpers enable the car to detect its surroundings. Cameras detect traffic lights, while GPS and inertial measurement units will help to keep track of the vehicle’s location and various movements.
Data is also programmed into the car so it can differentiate stationary objects like poles and mailboxes from factors in the environment, such as pedestrians or construction. The Google vehicles also are programmed to follow road rules and make assessments of changingsituations, such as advancing at a four-way-stop if other drivers have not yet moved into the intersection.
The goal of self-driving car manufacturers is to reduce congestion and accidents and keep traffic flowing more smoothly. Automakers will continue to conduct research to see how well self-driving cars and the people inside them work together.