For a few years now, we’ve seen self-driving cars in a number of Hollywood movies and TV shows. Typically, these vehicles are featured in futuristic settings that give viewers a sense of how different operating a vehicle could someday become. Minority Report even featured cars that look more like appliances. And, in addition to Google and Uber entering the market comes Apple.
More Cars, More Problems
We live in a fast-paced, highly populated society that involves a lot of moving around, and subsequently, we rely on our cars to get us where we need to be. Gas mileage, traffic congestion, costly accidents and parking are just some of the problems that complicate our everyday dependence on vehicles.
The ability for people to efficiently mitigate all of these issues doesn’t seem to improve much beyond where we are today, which led various engineers to question if there is a better way for us to use our cars.
Between the research conducted by Google and Germany’s Continental Automotive Group, experts have significantly progressed in the quest to change how we operate motor vehicles. Continental has launched a self-driving Volkswagen Passat that is at the forefront of testing the realistic capabilities of self-driving cars.
“We still have a long way to go, but the technology is amazing,” says Christian Schumacher, director of engineering systems and technology for Continental’s North American branch.
Thanks to Schumacher and his team at Continental, the idea isn’t far off now; the State of Nevada passed legislation in February allowing self-driving cars to operate on state highways. More specifically, this legislation will direct the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to establish regulations for autonomous cars operating on public roads. In the future, these cars will be equipped with green license plates for identification that they are, in fact, self-driven.
How can Self-Driving Cars Help?
Besides how innovative and futuristic the idea of independent cars may be, the real purpose of introducing driverless vehicles is to solve a series of issues that cars present to our society. For one, many companies claim their primary objective is to make roads safer; 1.2 million people die each year in traffic accidents and engineers hope that removing the human factor from the equation would improve these statistics dramatically.
Experts believe that self-driving cars could also improve traffic congestion and fuel consumption problems, as well as eliminate the need of parking because vehicles would be able to drop off the driver and return home.
“There is a strong business case for an autonomous car that can drop you off or a cab without the expense of a driver,” says Ravi Pandit, Chief Executive of global IT and engineering company KPIT Cummins in India.
While the concept of a 4,000-pound car driving on its own may frighten many, consumers probably don’t realize how close this is to reaching the marketplace. Continental’s experiments have involved just one autonomous car, which operated among cars being driven by other people. But in August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will begin intense studies of 3,000 self-driving cars in Ann Arbor, Mich. These cars will be equipped with devices that communicate with one another to prevent accidents.
“The google car is more capable, but cost is a factor of 1,000,” Schumacher added, referencing the comparison to Continental’s semiautonomous version.
If you happen to find yourself driving through the State of Nevada and see a Volkswagen Passat with a red license plate on it, will you feel safer or more endangered knowing that it’s not being driven by a human being? Share your thoughts with us in the comment box below.