It’s 2011, and many science fiction fans may be wondering, “Where are the flying cars?” While flying cars are still fiction, another technology – self-driving vehicles – may now be on the horizon.
GM announced on Sunday that autonomous cars may appear in showrooms by the end of the decade. Using radars, sensors, cameras, GPS, and portable communication devices, GM aims to create a vehicle that could interact with surrounding cars on the road and ultimately drive without a driver.
The 2012 GMC Terrain provides a glimpse into the early beginnings of such technology. Using a front-mounted camera to detect lane markings and vehicle shapes, the crash avoidance system alerts the driver if he is tailgating, drifting out of the lane, or about to crash.
Currently, GM is developing “vehicle-to-vehicle” communication technology that will send and receive information about traffic, road hazards, accidents, etc. Such technology would communicate traffic speed and analyze what surrounding vehicles are doing; for example, if cars ahead are using traction control, it might indicate that the road is slippery. Vehicles would communicate using in-car hardware or through a smartphone app.
However, the technology still has a long way to go before it can be implemented. To be most effective, it needs more people to use it. The more people using the technology, the more data the system will be able to collect, and therefore the more accurate it will be. Aside from lack of users, driverless vehicles face other challenges as well: legal obstacles. Only one state, Nevada, has made it legal to operate an autonomous car.
Once it is ready, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration predicts it will help prevent 81% of crashes. Autonomous vehicles also present the opportunity for drivers to focus on other things, takes away concerns about being distracted, and could even help manage traffic flow. They could communicate traffic patterns, avoid accidents, and thus create a better commute for everyone. Not to mention, a computer won’t get road rage, and we wouldn’t have to worry about drivers making poor decisions. On the other hand, many people have already expressed reservations about relenting control of their vehicle to a robot.
What do you think? In ten years, will you want a driverless vehicle?