The Self-Driving Car: A Thing of the Present

In this day and age, modern technology seems to habitually give birth to new and ingenious innovations on a frequent basis. Every morning while lazily scrolling through my Facebook there is surely a friend who shares a link to the latest and greatest must-have invention that makes daily hassles a thing of the past. Now, while most of those innovations serve as nothing more than a commodity to cut time from a task that only takes a minute at most, other inventors and tech companies alike are pushing to make products that will wow us on a global scale. With that thought begs the question, what could be so big that billion dollar companies like Volvo, Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and even Google are all anxiously trying to push out the same product first? Well, if you’re old enough to think the iPhone was a scary example of human endeavor, then do your best to wrap yourself around the thought of a self-driving car.

Amongst all of the big name car companies that are trying to develop such a product, Volvo and Google seem to be in the lead. Lately the two have been confident enough to share promising headway and provide a very vocal media outlet on updates on their development. So far both companies are beyond theorizing such an idea and have moved onto real world testing logging in some serious miles of driving between the two.

Highway testing was agreed upon by Volvo and Google to be the “easy” part, seeing as how that sort of driving remains fairly predictable and would only require minimal maneuvers for the on board computer to make. City driving would later prove to be the true test due to stoplights, pedestrians, bikers, construction, etc. all being major factors in whether or not these cars can be used by the public. A three ton piece of metal operating with zero human involvement leaves no margin for error; Google and Volvo are well aware that it is all or nothing when it comes to their product’s release.

Under the project name “Drive Me”, Volvo has had 100 cars running around Gothenburg, Sweden to gain constant feedback in an attempt to tweak their cars to perfection as quickly as possible. Erik Coelingh, Volvo’s technical specialist stated in the company’s April 29th press that, “The test cars are now able to handle lane following, speed adaption and merging traffic all by themselves…The technology, which will be called Autopilot, enables the driver to hand over the driving to the vehicle, which takes care of all driving functions”. Feel free to read more of their official statement here:

Head to Mountain View, California and you may see a fleet of Google aimlessly cruising around town. Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project went in detail over the true complexity of city driving saying that, “A mile of city driving is much more complex than a mile of freeway driving, with hundreds of different objects moving according to different rules of the road in a small area”. Oddly enough, their cars are essentially learning how to drive, obeying traffic laws, maneuvering around obstacles, and even altering driving habits if bikers were to make certain hand signals to turn. Slowly but surely, aspects from the 2004 film “iRobot” seems to become a reality, how exciting. Below is a video from Google’s YouTube page showcasing the self-driving car’s “thought process” while encountering different situations,.

While most would see this is nothing more than a cool gadget or feature to have in your car, others see this as an opportunity to change their life for the better. That was surely a thought in Steve Mahan’s mind, a man who had lost 95% of his vision which is well beyond legally blind. When Google took him for a ride in their self-driving car, he accepted and was able to complete tasks he hasn’t been able to do in years. “Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and flexibility to go the places I both want to go and need to go, when I need to do those things”, said Mahan. See his video with Google below.

Sweaty palms and road-rage may be a thing of the past. If you’re from Los Angeles like we are, you know that getting off from work at 5:00PM is only half the battle. Driving home is it’s own headache which usually includes a case of sweaty palms and dialogue that would leave you bankrupt had your daughter made you a swear jar. Although no set release date yet, many predict that 2020 may be the golden year for the early bird who chooses to get ready for work during the commute rather than before.


Videos From Google’s YouTube Page

Image from: “ExtremeTech”