Driverless Cars: Closer To Reality

Jun 2, 2014 By Shrinath, Young Editor
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A major development to self-driving cars may revolutionize the way we will drive in the future.

Google, the leading company in self-driving technology, has completely revamped its development program. Previously, Google had modified cars built by auto manufacturers, but now will start building its own car.

For the past four years, Google’s technicians had been working on a mechanism to return control to the human driver’s steering wheel in an emergency situation. However, Google now says that the handoff from automation to human will not be possible anytime soon. The solution—eliminate the driver itself.

Meet The New Cars...

Google has started to build a series of 100 experimental electric cars that look like a Smart car or Fiat 500. The only difference? There is no steering wheel, gas pedal, brake, and gearshift mechanisms. The only thing a human passenger controls is a red “e-stop” button for panic stops and a start button. The car’s unique “friendly” face is designed to make it seem non-threatening and help people accept self-driving technology.

Google employees had participated in a long experiment, in which they used self-driving vehicles for their normal commutes to work. No crashes occurred, but Google’s heads realized that relying on a human passenger that may be reading, working, or sleeping, to take over in an emergency wouldn’t work.

This is a major shift from competing self-driving projects—Mercedes Benz, BMW and Volvo have all developed some self-driving cars, but none completely eliminate the driver. For example, the Mercedes Benz cars disengage if the driver takes his hands off the wheel for over ten seconds.

How Safe Are They?

Google’s prototypes will be limited to a top speed of 25 miles per hour for safety reasons. The cars are intended for driving in urban and suburban settings, not on highways. However, a Google engineer commented that once the cars are demonstrated to run safely, there is no limit to the speed they can drive.

Google recently announced that its cars had covered 700,000 miles of public roads autonomously, and they were now tackling the busy city streets. Advocates for self-driving cars say this will revolutionize transport by making roads safer, eliminating crashes, and decreasing congestion and pollution.

Critical Thinking: Would you feel safe in a self-driving car? Why or why not?

Courtesy WSJ, Google