Lately the Internet has been bursting with news about driverless cars and how they will change the face of the car industry as we know it. Companies like Google have already developed cars that function without drivers for research purposes, but just how close are these cars to hitting America’s driveways? Here is the latest information on autonomous cars, how they work, and how likely they are to enter the American mainstream.
About Autonomous Cars
Autonomous cars, also known as driverless or self-driving cars, are automated or autonomous vehicles capable of fulfilling the main transportation functions of a traditional car. They eliminate the need for human input by sensing the outside environment, using various technologies such as radar, GPS, lidar, and computer vision. Autonomous cars can map out appropriate navigation paths while avoiding obstacles, and they are generally capable of tracking their location even when entering uncharted or recently reconstructed areas.
Currently, most autonomous cars are either prototypes or part of a larger demonstration system. Very few are commercially available, though as of 2014 there are open-air shuttles made for pedestrian zones that run at a speed of 12.5 miles per hour. This, however, could change in a matter of a few years as autonomous car technology advances.
Ford CEO Mark Fields recently stated that “in the next five years, you’ll see somebody introduce autonomous vehicles.” He did later qualify the statement, specifically that such technology in five years’ time would only be suitable for very specific areas and weather conditions. Even so, such a statement is major when coming from a leader in the automotive industry itself. Google and Tesla are two companies that are well-known for their hand in autonomous car development, but what is less known is that several car companies such as Audi, Volvo, Ford, Nissan and Toyota are also currently testing autonomous cars. According to Forbes, Mercedes-Benz even hopes to have a fully autonomous car on the road by 2020. Four U.S. states—Michigan, California, Nevada, and Florida—currently allow driverless car testing on public roads.
Autonomous Features already in Our Cars
Mercedes-Benz just so happens to be one of the forefronts in automotive technology when it comes to partially autonomous features in cars. Features that are already available today—blind spot assist, automatic suspension adjustment, collision prevention, and steering assist to keep the car centered in the lane, for example—mean that there is a great deal of partially autonomous driving on the roads already.