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Jan082014

Driverless Cars Are Taking Control

Image via CE.OrgAs we told you not too long ago, the 2014 International CES is upon us and tons of cool, new gadgets and technology are making their grand debut. But one such technology that everyone has been itching to hear about is driverless cars. From an outsider’s standpoint, not having to worry about driving sounds like a pretty cool idea, but, what would driverless cars actually mean for our world and how far away are we really?

First, it’s hard not to come up with a long, never-ending list of all the benefits that autonomous cars would have. On the top of that list is the sheer drop in accidents. Did you know that in 2010 all the accidents, 90% of which were caused by human error, cost a total of $300 billion!? That’s billion with a b. But, once you factor in cars that can drive themselves, numbers like those begin to drop. Even if just 10% of vehicles on the road were autonomous, 1,100 lives would be saved and there would be 211,000 fewer crashes. Bump that total up to 50% and another 8,500 lives are saved for a total of 9,600 and 1.88 million fewer crashes!

BMW's driverless car from 2014 CES (Image via CES.Cnet.Com)

But not only will lives be spared by this technology, lives will be enjoyed again. Those who are elderly and disabled would have the freedom to get to where they needed to go without having to rely on others. Plus, a driverless car can be much more efficient than a human could ever be. Even just the idea that driverless cars could free up congestion on the highway seems like a great benefit all on its own.

Clearly benefits are practically overflowing for driverless cars, but this technology isn’t going to pop up overnight. Companies have been working on and researching this technology since the mid-2000s and there are a lot of obstacles they have to overcome…literally! How do you make driverless cars aware of traffic lights, debris in the road, moving obstacles, and other potential hazards? Sure, you could load up the car with all the latest gadgets, but that doesn’t come cheap. In fact, a roof on one of Google’s self-driving cars is $70,000 alone! Then you have to factor in other items like sensors and software and you have a car nowhere near affordable enough for the average Joe.

Besides cost, technology like this is still a good ten years away. Right now, there’s a level system set by the NHTSA for autonomous vehicles. You can find many that are already at a level two, where the car can control two primary control functions in unison. Cars such as the Volvo XC90 would qualify with cruise control and its lane-centering steering technology, which can monitor lane markings and barriers to help keep a car centered. However, it’s that jump to the next level that will prove to be the trick. How do you take control away from the driver, but yet have the driver ready to take over again should the car experience conditions it’s not equipped to handle? We already know that when someone goes into auto pilot they can drift off or get bored. But, if cars become automated, they need to have a way to pull the driver back. They need an alert so the driver knows when human interaction is needed again.

Image via CE.Org

Plus, there are so many situations that will need to be factored in when it comes to having a car take over. That car needs to be able to switch from highway driving to city driving, it needs to understand road laws, and it has to be able to park! There’s also the hurdle of dealing with situations where a driver would know what to do, but a car would not. For example, if a pedestrian waves you on, you would know to keep driving, but a car would stubbornly wait for that person to cross.

This sort of technology has certainly come a long way, but there’s no doubt that it still has a long way to go. Make sure you stay tuned for more exciting news and updates from CES 2014 on our site, Spacebound.com.

(Story via CE.Org)

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