It’s incredible how fast human race is making advances in science and technology. As I look back, it appears to be yesterday when I was hoodwinking my parents into believing that I was preparing for engineering exams. As I cut classes and watched those fascinating sci-fi movies, I marveled at things like Tom Cruise controlling a giant screen with hand gestures in Minority Report. It wasn’t long before Mr. Jobs somewhat converted the fantasy into a reality with his range of i products. The movie also portrayed a world in which the cars drove themselves while the passengers just relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Google, as we all know it, seems to have taken up the job of making the vision a reality with its autonomous car. Having seen so much happen so soon, I won’t be surprised if I read about the concept of Precrime Prevention becoming a reality in tomorrow’s newspaper.
Google has been testing an autonomous car for the past couple of years. If the company’s claims are to be believed, the test car has done close to 2.5 lakh kilometers autonomously, without any untowardly incident. But testing one car and having an environment to test a multitude of such cars in the real world are two different things. After prolonged lobbying, seems like Google has found a place in the world to test its new tech on a wider scale. Nevada State of the US of A has become the first state to create regulations for companies interested in testing self-driven cars on public roads.
Of course, there is still a long way to go before such vehicles could be put into production, but the state of Nevada is geared up for the day when it happens with its set of laws. The regulations for the testing of autonomous vehicles include a bond ranging from $1 million to $3 million, details about where the vehicle will be tested and how, and an agreement to submit the entire data collected to the state. Also, there will always have to be two passengers in the car to override the system in case it messes up. The state is also gearing up to put laws in place for a time when these cars would be sold in the market to the common public. These cars will have special registration plates and will have to be equipped with Electronic Data Recorders which would have to record at least 30 seconds of data before a collision, or any other untowardly event occurs.
Google may be the leader in developing such an autonomous car, but it’s most definitely not the only company carrying out such an experiment. Global auto majors such as VW, Audi and GM are carrying out their own, independent development programs for such fully- or semi-autonomous vehicles.
It may look like a cool thought to have your car driving itself, but it’ll take years before such a technology is incorporated on production cars. The data available about roads will have to be more comprehensive. More importantly, it will have to be more dynamic, and blockades and other issues will have to be reported on the fly. Cars don’t have the decision making powers of humans, so they will have to rely on detailed, frequently updated information to be sure that they are not headed towards a precarious situation.
Another challenge would be to iron out the differences in the driving patters of humans and autonomous cars. A world which comprises of only self-driving cars sounds like a safer bet, where all the machines could communicate with each other and make an informed decision based on the data acquired. Throwing in instinctive humans into the equation makes the situation more dangerous. Google and other companies will have to ensure that there is perfect harmony between the self-driven and human driver cars in the real world. Also, chaotic and undisciplined traffic conditions like we have here in India would make the implementation of such technologies even more difficult.
So what do you think of the concept? Would it ever be implementable? What do you think would be the biggest challenges, and how do you think should these companies address them? Voice your opinions, there are more people listening than you think.