It was just a matter of time. We have heard about this for years. And who wouldn’t want to “not” have to sit behind the wheel and drive? Driving is such a pain. If it’s a long trip, you lose your ability to sit still, and enjoying the scenery around you. You can’t really eat or drink comfortably. You can’t read. You have to pay attention to the road.
Always being aware of what is going on around you. And not to mention how your body feels always being in that same position for hours at a time. And after a while the road tends to hypnotize you, and worst case, you fall asleep at the wheel.
Well guess what, soon this is all going to go away. We are closer to a self-driving car than ever before. Google has plans to eliminate the driver all together within the next 5 years. No steering wheel, no gas pedal, no brake pedal. Just you, your friends, in this new style car of the future. The Google Autonomous Vehicle.
There have been some other test cars that have attempted this. Toyota and Lexus being two. This new vehicle is being tested in California. But under California law, there must be a human in the vehicle, just in case, with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal and break-pedal. But this new model will be totally self-contained. No need for human intervention to drive the thing.
In the recent past, cars have been developed that help the driver. Auto stopping when something is discovered in the cars path, and auto parking to help parallel park in city streets, and notifications to help the driver know he is moving outside the confines of the driving lane.
Googles aim is to have the car completely automatic. I guess if you think about it, we all use the GPS gadgets. They allow a satellite to “see” your car. Tell you where you are. And help guide you to where you want to go. There are announcements if you go off course. They tell you when there is traffic up a head, and alert you if a detour is needed. But it is still YOU driving the car. To me, it seems this is the reverse. The Satellite sees you but it tells some gadget in your car where to go. As with a GPS you enter your destination. But in this case, the car takes over after that happens.
In the last few years Google has traveled about 1,000,000 miles driving and testing its car. Recently, they have been doing about 10,000 miles a week. This was all on local streets with things like pedestrians, intersections, cyclist, and other obstacles in the way. They expect a finished product by 2020.
With Googles car, the main problem to solve is driving with no human back up. So the car MUST be able to handle anything that is thrown at it or gets in the way. In the real world, there are other cars, bicycles, cows, deer, weather, and in extreme situations, building collapses and hurricanes. Humans have it rough with such obstacles, but who will allow the car to have an accident based on these variables and say….”oh that’s ok, it’s a self-driving car”. There can be no mistakes. That would lead to law suits and possibly death. No one wants this.
The next obstacle will be laws. There are none now on the books to allow for such a vehicle. This must be overcome before the auto makers roll out the first fleet of Autonomous Vehicles, which is what they are currently being called.
There is much interest in these Autonomous Vehicles, but at the present time, buying a new car off the lot is different than buying one of these new vehicles. You trust that the “old school” car will be safe. That it will get you from point A to point B with the help of YOU safely. And Insurance companies are counting on this. Otherwise, who will they make money? Are they ready to take a chance on the Autonomous Vehicle? Not yet I am afraid. But if proven as safe as Google wants us to believe, the insurance premiums could actually drop. This is yet to be seen.
There is the totally Autonomous Vehicle, and then there are those that will allow, almost require, some sort of human intervention in an emergency situation. Currently being tested is the reaction time of humans in taking over from the on board computer in these vehicles. In some tests the time it took a human to react and take over varied from 3 to as much as 10 seconds. This would happen after some sort of audio or visual, or both, alarm that goes off to alert the driver to “take over”. A lot can happen in 10 seconds. Most cars would travel an additional 1000 feet in ten seconds. That could make for a disaster.
And as with anything humans do. The more they do it the better they get. And when they stop doing it, the ability is diminished. So now picture this, you have your Autonomous Vehicle, and have had it for let’s say a year with no accidents. Now a situation comes up, the alarms go off, you have to take over, and do you ever remember how to drive or take emergency action? Have you practiced for such a situation? Are there “accident drills” that are required by the manufacturer to keep the warranty active. We don’t know this yet.
Look at airplanes. They use auto pilot all the time. But there have been occasions where emergencies came up. The alarm went off, the pilot was instructed to take over, but they weren’t experienced on this particular plane, and the results were disastrous. Then the finger pointing starts. Who’s fault was it that there was not enough time to react after the alarm. The software, the alarm system, the driver, who knows.
At the present time, Google is working toward a vehicle that needs no human intervention. It would take the blame out of the equation, but makes for much more work on their part before it can go on the market. Be trusted by the Government, trusted by the insurance companies, and trusted by us HUMANS.
Here are some further things to think about when driving the new Google Autonomous Vehicle. Shall we call it the GAV?
Humans are Awful Drivers
They drink alcohol, they over eat, they don’t get enough sleep, and 30,000 people die each year from automobile accidents. Crashes being the leading cause of death in these accidents. Many times humans never even touch the brake pedal due to slow reaction time. This is Googles goal in all this. Take the human out of the equation. And save THOUSANDS of lives every year.
These cares are timid
In test situation, the drivers labeled them overly cautious. They drove slowly and deliberately. This would annoy some people to no end. The level of driving aggression the GAV uses can be adjusted with the software, but to what extent?
They are cute
Remember the VW bug, reminds me of those, but even smaller. The human brain treats “cute” things with more care and caution, maybe that’s the manufacturer’s intent with these GAV. Maybe part of the reason is to keep other drivers at bay, make them think, “oh look how cute” and then they won’t be so aggressive when they come up against a GAV. These cars are designed for the traveler to go limited distances, not out on the open road traveling from New York to Los Angeles. So the max speed is 25 mph. That could upset other drivers who are accustomed to going much faster. Do you drive 25 mph now? I don’t. And when you do find yourself going this slow, what happens? Everyone that gets behind you starts blowing their horn. Maybe looking cute would stop some of this. They may like driving behind you so they can get a closer look at it themselves.
It’s not perfect yet
Google wants perfect. As a matter of fact, it is a 100% requirement to be perfect. It has to be. Could be one of the first perfect THINGS in life. But less than perfect in a machine such as this cannot be. There will be four way stops, left turn lanes, right turns on red, passing cars, yellow traffic signals, rail road crossing, cars pulling out of driveways, and pedestrians NOT crossing at crosswalks and with the green light. All these things have to be programed into the software of the GAV. So far, they have covered a lot of these obstacles. The cars are equipped with 3d laser-mapping, GPS, and radar that all are fed into the GAV’s on board computer that drives the car. So far the range for one of these electric vehicle is 100 miles before recharge, not bad.
One problem right now that they are working on is giving them the ability to drive in the snow and heavy rain, something us humans do all the time and with not much thought. Well, not much thought if you are from the North East where we get a lot of snow. You sort of learn to do it without even thinking. They have to drive thru construction zones and around detours. They have to make these GAV do just that, do it without thinking, but really they ARE thinking, at the speed of light.
Additional plus of the GAV
There are a lot of folks with limited ability. Maybe it’s a physical or mental handicap, maybe they had a stroke, and maybe they have a broken leg. How do these folks get around now? A family member, friend, neighbor? Possibly. But it doesn’t give the person a feeling of independence. With the GAV they get this back. If they can get out to the vehicle, they can get where ever they want to go.
And lastly – it wasn’t a thrill ride
Riding in one of these things, once you get used to it, it very calming. It’s slow and steady. The car drives like a person would. And from what I’m told, once in one, and riding in it, you soon forget it is a computer doing the driving and not a person. You forget that it’s a robot driving your car. It’s the robot not hitting that deer or some pedestrian crossing the street. It just works that good.
In the end result though, after 1000’s and 1000’s of successful journeys, there will be that one accident. Then everyone will be up in arms saying “SEE YOU CANT TRUST A MACHINE”. I say, lighten up. This technology is the future. It will save lives. It will make life easier, it will be good for the economy. It will be good for the climate. It will be good for the handicapped. It will just plain be good. Get used to it. It’s the future.