Technology Drives the Autonomous Vehicle to Fruition

Will Smith in I, Robot

In the 2004 film, "I, Robot", Will Smith played a techno-phobic cop in the year 2035. In the film, robots and automation dominated every aspect of human life. "I, Robot" was based on a work of fiction, and the speed of technological progression in the film seems like a stretch. However, advanced safety features designed to reduce the responsibilities of the driver autonomous driving has been developing since 1992.

Since 1992, the automotive industry has been increasing onboard technology with advanced safety features. While these features have undoubtedly made the road safer, they have also reduced the number of responsibilities of the driver. At this rate, the role of a driver will eventually change altogether. Based on current trends, the safest option will be auto-pilot and moving towards safer -- and undoubtedly autonomous -- vehicles.

Autonomous Parking

In 1992, Volkswagen first debuted its self-parking technology. This technology parked the VW's Integrated Research Volkswagen (IRVW) Futura concept car with full automation. Since the entire process was being controlled by a PC in the trunk of the vehicle, the driver could get out of the vehicle while it parked itself. It was estimated this feature would have added $3,000 to the cost of any Volkswagen. Imagine seeing these futuristic vehicles in every Volkswagon dealership from Chapman Scottsdale to Burdick in Syracuse, self-parking into the lots after a test drive. While VW's self-parking technology was never put into production, it was this technology that illuminated countless possibilities and started the talk of the fully autonomous vehicle.

Types of Parking Systems

Some parking systems utilize sensors located around your vehicle for transmitting and receiving signals. Once these signals are emitted, they are reflected off of objects to return to the sensor with distance and space implications based on the amount of time it took the signal to return. More advanced parking systems utilize cameras located around your vehicle or an advanced radar system to sense objects.

Adaptive Cruise Control

With adaptive cruise control (ACC), you'll never worry about altering your cruise control speed to compensate for the molasses-like driver in front of you. Instead, your ACC will automatically adjust your cruise settings to keep a safe following distance. Once the vehicle is no longer in your path, your adaptive cruise control will automatically return to the initial speed.

ACC effectively uses laser and radar sensors to determine the distance and speed of vehicles in front of you. Unlike human drivers, ACC-enabled vehicles are unaffected by bad weather, such as rain or fog. With this single (but gargantuan) hazard minimized, it's clear to see how much safer the roads will be.

However, safety is only the beginning of the benefits of adaptive cruise control. The New York Times published a study that offered the following beneficial insights:

  • When the road is operating at "peak capacity," only 4.5 percent of the highway's surface area is covered. Adaptive cruise control can increase the utilization of the highway's surface area.
  • Instead of hearing, "Are we there yet?" ACC can decrease travel times by 37.5 percent.
  • The study revealed that if only one-fourth of vehicles were equipped with ACC, traffic delays and traffic jams would be decreased by an astonishing 20 percent.

Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist

Lane Keep Assist (LKA) or Lane Departure Warning (LDW) systems are designed to alert the driver if the vehicle veers out of its lane. LDW and LKA employs cameras and sensors to detect lane and road boundaries. These technologies have proven to be vital in preventing drivers from running off the road from exhaustion or other ailments. Considering one in five accidents involving commercial vehicles resulted from a side collision, LKA and LDW prevent vehicles from venturing into other lanes, which saves lives.

Researchers continue to search for more effective ways to sense boundaries, such as GPS, image processing and the most prominent method involving magnetic markers embedded in the road. Today's standard LDW system uses a front-mounted camera to detect the road ahead. When LDW senses the driver will veer into another lane, the system makes sounds or vibrates to alert the driver. However, if the vehicle has Lane Keep Assist as an additional component, the system will intervene and correct the steering to keep the vehicle in its proper lane.

Autonomous Vehicle

For the last few years, Google has been testing more than 20 self-driving autonomous vehicles. The autonomous vehicle is able to sense its environment and maneuver around without assistance from a human. The completely autonomous vehicle combines all of the previously mentioned technologies with GPS, radar, lidar, and computer vision to sense its surroundings.

Advantages of Autonomy

  • Since humans are unpredictable, autonomous vehicles will lead to fewer accidents.
  • The roads will be less congested -- there will be no need for safety gaps.
  • Speed limits will potentially be raised.
  • Occupant constraints related to intoxification, blindness, age and other factors would be removed.
  • Vehicle insurance would decrease, as well as the need for traffic police.

Potential Obstacles for Autonomous Vehicle

  • Unclear over who would be responsible for liability damages.
  • People do not want to give up their right to drive.
  • Questions about the legitimacy and reliability of the software.
  • Cyber security will also become a major issue and take on a much greater level of importance.
  • Neither federal nor state governments have any framework for governing or regulating autonomous vehicles.
  • All jobs that require a driver will be lost. In addition, all related occupations will be reduced or completely eliminated.