Much of the talk in the vehicle world right now is focused on the phenomenon of the ‘driverless car’. Tesla, Nissan and Google are currently engaged in a battle to put a self-driving car into production – Tesla announced they’ll be producing them within two years, Nissan will have one in production by 2020, and ambitious Google want to have them available to sell by 2018.
Google have already unveiled a prototype of a self-driving car. It has no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal, but it is equipped with more sensors and cameras to make up for it. Not many outside of Google have been able to try out the prototype yet, and the remainder of the project is shrouded in secrecy.
So how exactly does a driverless car work? Let’s take a look at Google’s model for an example.
The driverless Google car is powered by an electric motor that can travel for around 100 miles without needing to be charged (eco-friendly – that’s what we like to hear!). The car uses a combination of thousands of sensors, built-in software and very accurate digital maps to pinpoint itself. Lasers, radar and cameras are used to monitor the area around the car (up to 600m).
The software within the car can recognise almost any object – it picks up people, cars, road markings, road signs, traffic lights and other crucial objects that are vital to safe motoring. The car can even detect things like cyclists and roadworks and find safe ways to circumvent them.
Google has focused on trying to make the drive feel natural and predictable – the key aim is to have the car behave in a familiar way on the road, to the benefit of the passengers and other drivers. The system is loaded with reams of information to help the vehicle hone its driving style, and giving consideration to other road users is first priority.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), it’s unlikely self-driving cars will be available on the consumer market at any time in the near future. Google are currently conducting extensive research into how the product could be manufactured and how much it would cost. The most likely use for the driverless car at the moment appears to be as some kind of small bus or efficient taxi, used for shared transport rather than every journey.
What do you think of driverless cars? Would you get one – or is it all a little too tech-heavy for you? Let us know!