Developing a Driverless Vehicle

Photo courtesy of Daimler.

Are near-zero vehicle collisions a possibility with the advent of autonomous vehicle technology? With the amount of research being done today, it could be a reality sooner rather than later.

Imagine a crash-free society, where human error is taken out of the driving equation. Vehicles would function as robots, equipped with lasers, radar, camera sensors, and GPS systems. They would travel from Point A to Point B with a near-zero chance of a collision with other vehicles, pedestrians crossing the street, or deer startled by headlights.

Seem far-fetched? Technology giant Google, which has logged nearly 700,000 miles in its small fleet of autonomous Prius hybrids, and a growing number of automakers are making big bets that this technology is the future of transportation and have been incorporating various levels of autonomous driving capabilities in their latest products, with street-legal self-driving cars to be launched within the next decade or so.

Many of the building blocks for autonomous driving are already in production. These advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) include adaptive cruise control (which automatically adjusts cruising speed based on traffic flow ahead of the vehicle), blind spot detection (which warns the driver when there are nearby vehicles that can't be seen by the sideview mirror), emergency brake assist (which detects critical traffic situations and automatically applies braking when needed), and lane departure warning (alerting the driver before the vehicle is about to leave the lane).

Mercedes-Benz and Nissan both expect to be selling fully autonomous vehicles by 2020. Tesla, the luxury electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer, said the company expects to bring to market a vehicle with 90-percent autonomous capabilities by 2016. Tesla's systems would allow drivers to turn on a form of "auto-pilot," similar to those used in commercial airlines, to handle the bulk of the driving duties on a given commute.

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