Despite mixed media reviews, Google has been flexing the muscle of their endless cash flow for a decade now, trying everything from social media to YouTube to driverless cars. Their acquisitions and aspirations have been vast and success has varied, but one of the more interesting was the Autonomous vehicle or self driving vehicle.
Most people have seen an Autonomous, aka Driver less vehicle in science fiction or futuristic movies, but not live in person. Sadly, most movies, such as the autonomous cab in “Total Recall”, usually involve an accident or malfunction of some type. Google’s self driving vehicles seem to be doing well so far, with less than 5 reported accidents, none of which were the fault of the car itself. As a matter of fact, in two incidents the Google vehicle was hit from behind while at a legal stop. Realistically, this could possibly have been caused by the shock of seeing a vehicle with no driver.
Convenience and Aid for the Disabled
When Google acknowledged the existence of their self driving vehicle, they posted a YouTube video on March 28th in 2012. The video featured Mr. Steve Mahan, who is a Morgan Hill California resident, and lacks 95% of his vision, being driven by a Google self-driving Toyota Prius. Google explains in the comments that the vehicle was programmed with a specific route, which included a trip to a dry cleaner, a drive through restaurant and back home.
The introduction of Autonomous or self driving vehicles for this purpose can be extremely beneficial, as in the case of Mr. Mahan. A short, preordained trip seems much more realistic then a road trip from Florida to California. Google’s self driving cars could eventually transport handicapped and disabled individuals to doctors appointments, grocery or pharmaceutical trips.
Another use for autonomous or self driving vehicles could be hospital or airport shuttles, taking people home, to a hotel or to another area of the facility. Google has yet to admit they’ll be marketing these vehicles for sale, but Nevada, California, Michigan and Florida can all now legally operate self driving cars within their borders. Texas is in the process of legalization as well, but is still evaluating guidelines.
Rolling Among Us
If you happen to see a car driving itself, do not be alarmed… unless it seems out of control. Google’s project team has admitted to having at least ten autonomous or self driving vehicles currently in operation. There is an Audi TT, Three Lexus RX450h and six Toyota Prius, each having a Google engineer and a human driver along for the ride. One of the vehicles successfully navigated the winding twists and elbow curves of San Francisco’s Lombard Street, during traffic. Yet another has traveled Lake Tahoe and the Golden Gate Bridge.
According to reports, the Google autonomous, aka self driving vehicles are all preprogrammed with maps and speed limits for the ordained area. The cars are equipped with sensors that judge the distance between them and what is in front and behind. The fail safe is similar to that of cruise control. The human driver must tap the gas, brake or turn the steering wheel in order to gain control of the vehicle.
New Design, More Vehicles
Google has confirmed that in 2014, they have maintained no less than twelve driver less cars on the road at all times. The Google team excitedly announced in April 2014, driverless vehicles have now logged over 700,000 autonomous miles or 1.1 million km with no reported accidents related to “smart” issues. The engineers are so confident, only one driver is used now and they have developed another design. This self driving vehicle puts the control completely in the autonomous vehicle’s tires. The May 2014 design will feature no gas or brake pedal and no steering wheel.
Google’s Car Craze is Contagious
Mary Barra, of Cadillac announced on September 7th, 2014, that Cadillac would make a semi autonomous Super Drive system vehicle. The projected availability date is 2017, so Google definetly has a big head start with the driving vehicles. Cadillac’s design will be featuring hands free highway travel, with human intervention needed for refueling and merging on or off a main road.
It was announced at the Annual 2014 Intelligent Transportation Systems World Conference in Detroit that the master engineers of Cadillac also plan on integrating a vehicle to vehicle communication system into their semi self driving cars. Why?
According to them, the autonomous cars will be able to chat with one another, passing on weather details, traffic issues and road conditions. The cars will also be able to communicate distance and potentially avoid collisions, both minor and major.
Autonomous Ride Race
The seeming success of Google’s self driving vehicles has inspired more than Cadillac to jump in the race to manufacture, and publically sell autonomous cars. Nissan has fully autonomous vehicles in the works, said to be ready by or before 2020. TRW Automotive, recently recived a $13.5 billion bid via a German car parts creator. Their design is said to include both radar and video surveillance for driver less cars.
Cadillac, TRW nor Nissan will probably be able to catch up to Google though, since the big G is currently maintaining a fleet of over 100 self driving vehicles, plus several new prototypes. The current star of the Google autonomous show is the completely self driven, pedal and wheel less vehicles. Much different than the previous models which had cruise control type safety feature, these models just have an emergency button.
Even some cities are making modifications for autonomous vehicles. Detroit, funded by the IT will be covering over 120 miles of road way with vehicle to vehicle technology. This will allow them to hook the self driving vehicle to the road itself, as well as other vehicles.
Cost Versus Convenience
Autonomous or self driving vehicles can truly be helpful to those who cannot drive themselves. However, the cost of this convenience is something that still has to be worked out. These robot chauffeurs will require very sensitive materials in order to function as designed. Google’s design require cameras, laser and sonar sensors and radar, among many other delicate but necessary parts. Google wants these cars to be flawless, unlike the hordes of American cars recalled this past year alone.
Acura, Infiniti and Mercedes have models on the market now that can do simple tasks, such as park themselves or hold their position in a lane for a few seconds.
Self Driving Under the Influence of Hackers
The whole concept behind self driving vehicles, such as Google’s current fleet, seems too good to be true. Autonomous or self driving vehicles, like all smart devices will have vulnerabilities. Computer hackers have already started to evaluate smart cars, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Eventually, some professional hacker will find and infiltrate flaws, just as they have with other smart devices. Just imagine riding along and suddenly the vehicle changes course, and the emergency button doesn’t work. At this point, there are no guarantees.
Vehicle to Vehicle to Highway
The ITS ideally wants autonomous vehicles to be connected to both one another and the actual road ways. Some of their reasoning is legitimate. However, when they said connected, they meant it. The ITS vision of self driven vehicles is having them all maintain a specific speed in a bumper to bumper or “platooning”position. That seems like a candy coated way of saying bumper to bumper traffic forever.
The self driving vehicles ability to detect and evaluate may one day save lives; however detecting does not require connecting. Google explained that the radar, cameras and such were necessary for their smart vehicles to be smart, detecting and responding to their environment.
To Smart Technology?
Google anticipates having over 200 within their self driving vehicle fleet prior to the end of 2015. It has been predicted, once autonomous cars hit the market, that 95 million completely self driven cars will be sold by 2035.
Using self driving vehicles for short rides seems feasible, but bumper to bumper highways seems a bit tedious. The more advanced technology seems to get, the more it seems to remove the need for cognitive thought amongst humans. Instead, the phones, the tablets, the computers, and now the cars, will think for us. There comes a point when technology is too smart.