Friday, January 3, 2014

Self-Driving Cars Will Be Taking Over Sooner Than You Expected

Three nights ago, I was driving home from work and listening to NPR (yes, I listen to NPR sometimes, and yes, I'm a little ashamed that I’m boring enough to actually do this) when I heard a report that drivers should expect to see self-driving cars on the road by 2017. Wow! 2017 is right around the corner.
The latest autonomous concept from Volvo.

Right now, the leader in this autonomous revolution is Volvo, who has publicly said that they plan to put 100 driverless cars on the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden in 2017. These cars will be able to avoid pedestrians, navigate traffic, and park themselves. Today, nearly all major automakers are working on their own versions of autonomous vehicles.

For many, this may seem soon- too soon actually. But, the truth is that this has been a long way coming; we just might not have taken it too seriously. If you don't believe me, check out this timeline:

1939- The idea of autonomous cars is first introduced by the GM Futurama Exhibit at the World Fair. GM even went on to develop a model highway system in which automated vehicles would dominate the road. 

1977- The first autonomous vehicle is developed by Japanese engineer Sadayuki Tsugawa. The vehicle could reach 30 kilometers per hour and was capable of processing images on the road. It was, however, aided by an elevated rail.
Hans Moravec's Smart Vehivle

1979- Designer Hans Moravec comes up with the very first "Smart Vehicle." It was essentially a simple buggy equipped with a video monitoring device. The vehicle took years to make and was originally in production for NASA who hoped to use it to roam unknown terrain. In the end, it was able to navigate a chair filled room in 5 hours without ANY intervention.

1982- Knight Rider, starring David Hasselhoff, premieres. One of the featured characters is a fully autonomous car named KITT.

Below, Total Recall shows us a frightening version of autonomous cars. They're called Johnny Cabs.


1995- The "No Hands Across America Tour" commences. During the trip, a 1990 Pontiac Trans Sport traveled from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles. According to their journal, the trip was 98.2 percent autonomous and only needed human intervention to avoid minor obstacles (a problem that has been plaguing the movement ever since).

2004- DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) sponsors a grand challenge that awards cash prizes to anybody that bridges the technology gap in the autonomous vehicle world. This helps to spur interest and research in the field.

2011- Nevada becomes the first state to legalize autonomous cars being on the road. Currently four states- Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan) have made this legal.

For a lot of people, this just seemed like fantasy, hearsay. Like other conspiracy theories: Elvis is still alive and Neil Armstrong never set foot on the moon. As the days move forward, this transition, however, cannot be denied. In a recent USA Today article, it’s been predicted that annual sales of autonomous cars will balloon to 230,000 vehicles in 2025 and 11.8 million in 2035! “By 2050, IHS predicts, nearly all vehicles — private and commercial — will be self-driving cars (SDCs).”

Of course, many of us are going to hold out for as long as we can. After all, driving is fun, isn’t it?

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