Just over a year ago I wrote about Google and Lexus paving the way for driverless cars to become a reality on our roads. I’ve not heard that much on the subject since – until now.
The UK government has just announced that it is to allow driverless cars on UK roads from January 2015. Is this too soon or simply a confirmation in the confidence that they have in the way the testing has gone over the past couple of years?
Cities across the UK are currently being invited to bid for the right to be able to trial this idea. Three trials are up for grabs lasting for up to 3 years with a fund of £10million set up to cover the costs.
This would mean that in less than 6 months, you might see a driverless vehicle on a road near you – or me. I’m not sure how I feel about this to be honest. I put a lot of faith in technology in my everyday life and remain amazed by the speed that technology in all areas of daily life is currently chugging along at. We sit in a period of great advancements forward.
So am I right to be nervous of this news? I guess in part it extends to my own self-imposed limitations on car maintenance; I would never trust myself to work on my brakes, rather allowing a mechanic the honour of being the (last) person that gets verbal abuse should they fail at high speed!
Arguably, if you take away human error, which amounts to 90% of all car accidents according to the International Organization for Road Accident Prevention, surely you might actually have safer roads.
Currently, the law is not really set up for driverless vehicles, with potential legal and insurance issues hampering the progress forward. These issues have restricted driverless vehicles to private roads to date. I will keep an eye on how that one develops over the coming months.
So How Does it Work?
We already have reverse and forward parking cameras and sensors on our cars and ‘computer vision’ will play a large part in driverless cars in the future. The simple forward/back view will be expanded to a full 360-degree vision.
The map on your phone that you use to navigate your way around unfamiliar cities is to play a big part in this as well. The technology that produces the mapping uses lasers to reflect back from solid objects and accurately evaluate the distance between itself and the object. You can see how this will be useful when adapted to driverless vehicles.
This remote sensing technology is called Lidar (a mash up of light and radar) and is already in use to help farmers work out which parts of a field to apply their fertiliser to and to help archaeologists to work out where to dig.
So the technology has been around for a while and is working well in other fields. So there is no reason to think that this progression will be anything other than a natural step forward into making driverless cars like those featured in the film, The Fifth Element, a reality.
To allay your concerns even further, just think about the last time you went on your annual two-week break to Corfu; the chances are that the plane that took you might well have used autopilot at some point in the journey. In fact you might be surprised to know that the first basic plane with autopilot was developed as far back as 1912. So nothing to worry about then surely!
Fifth Element image – 4.bp.blogspot.com
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