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What Are Self-Driving Cars?


Self-driving or autonomous cars are vehicles which can sense their environment and navigate themselves without a driver behind the wheel.

As of today, no fully autonomous car is legal to drive on the road. Cars still require a human driver to be at the wheel ready to take control of the vehicle should the need arise.

Self-driving cars use a number of different methods to detect their environments for example radar, GPS, computer vision, laser light and odometry.  Their control systems are advanced to the point where they can translate sensory information to isolate paths of navigation, signage and potential obstacles.  Self-driving cars have to have the ability to analyse data to tell the difference between the variety of cars around them.

When It All Began

The concept of a self-driving car fits with the technology we have these days and the exciting trends emerging in just about all spheres. However development and research for this concept started in the 1920s and 30’s with the first attempt at production of an autonomous car occurring in the 1980’s. The pioneers were the Navlab and ALV projects from Carnegie Mellon University. This happened in 1984, and shortly thereafter in 1987, Bundeswehr University and Mercedes Benz’s EUREKA project was launched.

A major achievement in self driving cars came in 1995, when the very first long-distance drive was attempted and completed in a self-driving car. CMU’s Navlab 5 drove from Pittsburgh to San Diego. Of the 2,849 miles travelled, the car managed 2,797 miles fully autonomously, at an average speed of 63.8 miles per hour.

This sparked the development of several other driverless cars from other companies.

Google’s Driverless Car

In 2009, the search engine giant, Google launched its driverless car initiative, with the single goal of developing a fully driverless car by the year 2020. The initiative was headed up by Sebastian Thrun, who is a university professor from Stanford. He is also responsible for a number of other significant projects at Google’s X research lab – the most well-known of which being Street View, and Google Glass.

Sebastian Thrun first started his research on self-driving cars at Stanford where he led a faculty and student team in the design of the Stanley robot car. The car went on to win the DARPA 2005 Grand Challenge by driving 132 miles on its own in the desert.

Google started its self-driving car project with an Audi TT and six Toyota Priuses.  These cars drove through the streets of a California suburb, Mountain View. Google hired 7 people with perfect driving records to sit behind the wheels of these initial cars, and interestingly, 7 years later, this is still a position it hires for.

Google’s self-driving cars use the usual technology to see what they need to see, but the sensors on the cars can detect things as far as two football fields distance away. This type of technology is being in used of all kinds of applications, and similar advances in the online slots real money Canada has to offer and consoles that use kinetic sensors have been trialled.

What Happened Next For Google Cars

By 2010, Google’s self-driving cars had racked up an amazing 140000 miles on the road and were quoted as saying that it had the capacity to cut down traffic deaths by at least half.

Google continued to work on and develop its cars until 2014, when it made its first public announcement on the project in over 2 years.  They then cited turning a corner in the technology development as the cars were now deemed capable of interpreting a myriad of urban situations that had in previous years been a problem for them.

They built their own car displaying a prototype of the car at the Code Conference.  This self-drive car came with no steering wheel, brakes, or accelerator – only an off and on switch.  The speed was capped at 25 mph.

Google Cars Today

Today, Google cars have driven more than 2 million miles in their selected test cities.  There are 34 prototype cars, and 24 Lexus SUV’s on the road, that collectively drive up to 26 000 miles per week.

Despite this, there is still no confirmation when the cars will become available to the public, even after 7 years of development and work.  Their competitors, Tesla and Uber have already introduced their cars to the public, but Google’s Larry Page insists that Google cars need to be fully autonomous and perhaps this is what is causing the delay.

Nevertheless, we look forward to being able to test drive a Google self-drive car when they finally do land on our car dealership floors!