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Finally, cars that drive themselves 2010-Jun-02 at 15:49 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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1 comment so far

With advanced sensors, cars become increasingly capable of driving themselves, by Nic Fleming, 01-June-2010

According to Jonas Ekmark, a researcher at Volvo headquarters near Gothenburg, Sweden, this is just the start. He says we are entering an era in which vehicles will also gather real-time information about the weather and highway hazards, using this to improve fuel efficiency and make life less stressful for the driver and safer for all road users. "Our long-term goal is the collision-free traffic system," says Ekmark.

Ultimately, that means bypassing the fallible humans behind the wheel — by building cars that drive themselves. Alan Taub, vice president for research and development at General Motors, expects to see semi-autonomous vehicles on the road by 2015. They will need a driver to handle busy city streets and negotiate complex intersections, but once on the highway they will be able to steer, accelerate and avoid collisions unaided. A few years later, he predicts, drivers will be able to take their hands off the wheel completely: "I see the potential for launching fully autonomous vehicles by 2020."

And maybe I can get a job as the “lead driver”:

The most ambitious of these projects, a collaboration between seven European manufacturers and universities, would also allow up to eight cars a little more than a yard apart driving in convoy, controlled by a lead vehicle operated by a professional driver.

Ordinary drivers would book a place in convoys and hand over control of their car to software on the lead vehicle. Steering, acceleration and braking would be controlled by an on-board computer that uses data sent wirelessly from the lead vehicle, along with information from cameras and radar and laser detectors on the front and rear of the car itself.

Drivers will be able to work, read, watch films or even sleep while their cars are driven for them. "It will be like sitting on a bus or a train," says Ekmark. When the convoy nears an exit at which drivers wish to leave, they can resume control and continue their journey.

As long as I can continue to control my own car, I’m happy to see this.  Most people are really lousy drivers, anyway.  I’d be happier to see them not controlling their own cars.

Of course, this is just an intermediate step until we have AI-level computing, controlling cars whenever we want.  No later than 2025, I’d say.

We’ll have the inevitable system failure with fatalities, and then the inevitable breathless news stories saying, “Are the new cars safe?!?” And then we’ll remember that yes, they’re way safer than humans driving, and we’ll move on, make better and better automated driving systems, and raise a generation of kids who have cars (solar powered, of course) but have never actually driven.  We’ll also have two different kinds of driver’s licenses: one where you’re allowed to conduct your own car, and one where you’re allowed to be in the car, but only if the AI drives.

Fun, right?  Somewhere, “Red Barchetta” plays on a radio….