Although it might seem like something straight out of a sci-fi film, driverless cars are a reality and they are well on their way. Using GPS to navigate the roads and batteries instead of petrol, the carbon neutral two-person “pods” can reach incomprehensible speeds of 12mph and will be available to the public by 2015.
However, you won’t be able to buy one just yet. It seems they’re going to be rolled out in Milton Keynes (UK) first and used as driverless taxis. David Willetts, minister for higher education at the business department, said, “In 25 years we will look back and be amazed at how much time we used to waste driving ourselves places. We will be hopping into a car that will drive us to the cinema where we will tell it ‘park yourself and come back and get me at 10.15pm’.”
Whilst the cars are by no means economical (100 of the beauties set Milton Keynes back a casual £65 million) insurance premiums will be much lower than standard vehicles due to the price cuts for electric and their apparent added safety element. Indeed, driverless car advocates are claiming that the machines reduce road traffic accidents. “They don’t get drunk or drive under the influence of drugs. They don’t get exhausted and fall asleep,” said Willetts.
Sure, it might seem a little crazy to suppose a car without a driver could be safer than a car with one, but when Google introduced driverless cars in California last year, they managed 400,000 miles without a single accident. Incredibly, they are still retaining that accolade.
What is Google Drive?
Google’s robotic test cars have about $150,000 in equipment – including a $70,000 LIDAR (laser radar) system. The range finder (mounted on the top is a “Velodyne 64-beam laser”) and allows the vehicle to generate a detailed 3D map of its environment – noting any potential obstructions or risks. The car then combines the 3D maps with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself.
Whilst it might sound like cutting edge technology, the ability to analyse data from various on-board sensors and apply it to 3D maps was developed way back in the 18th century by English Clergyman Thomas Bayes. Still, the “Personal Rapid Transit Vehicles,” as they are known, are aiming to resolve many modern problems. “The number of cars in the world is expected to reach four billion by 2050,” said Business Secretary Vince Cable. This figure is despite the fact we may not have the resources to sustain such a demand. It’s predicated that by 2040, petrol production levels may be down to 15 million barrels per day – around 20% of what we currently consume. This is especially concerning since it’s likely that the world’s population will be twice as large, more industrialised and more oil dependent.
Therefore, a £2-a-trip driverless pod that is totally carbon neutral and accident free seems like a promising prospect, no? Okay, it won’t be giving any of us petrol heads many wet dreams, but it’s a step in the right direction and a shining example of what is achievable to petrol-guzzling car manufacturers the world over.