Whether the public is ready or not, carmakers and tech giants are beginning to cooperate to make driverless vehicles a commodity sooner than anyone expected.
Global companies such as Honda, Hyundai, and BMW, are just a few of the big car makers joining tech firms like Intel, Google, and Samsung to perfect driverless systems.
The contest is becoming so fierce that auto and tech companies are competing with each other to get the best talent for a new age of vehicles. For instance, John Krafcik, who started his career with Ford, was snatched up by Hyundai and then by Google to head it's driverless car project.
Arrays of Sensors
Most car makers rely on an array of cameras and sensors for both gathering data and recognizing and physical conditions around the vehicle for evaluation. Tesla's Model S comes equipped with eight cameras giving 360-degree views up to 250 meters away, forward-facing radar, and 12 ultrasonic sensors for detecting objects.
Better sensor detection is part of the challenge. In November of last year, tech company Osram announced its new lidar (radar using lasers rather than sound pulses) sensor that can detect objects up to 660 feet away - at light speeds. Osram had the driverless vehicle market in mind; the new sensor has no moving parts for greater durability and costs less than $50.
Stanford University researchers tested their own driverless vehicle - an Audi TTS dubbed "Shelley" - against racing champion David Vodden on his own unique course at Thunderhill Raceway in California. The three-mile track has 15 hair-raising turns, yet Shelly completed it at an average 120 mph and beat Vodden by nearly half a second.
Part of their success comes from Shelley's last upgrade. The car's software was able to use data gathered from professional drivers. Stanford engineers attached electrodes to the heads of drivers during actual races to record their brainwaves as they raced. This gave them useful data on human brain activity during high speed driving involving complex maneuvers.
If Shelley is any indication, they were able to successfully correlate their findings into the car's responses. This car is only the first step in a driverless vehicle with levels of skills and reactions far beyond those of the average human driver, creating greater levels of safety under emergency conditions.
If the trend is creating autonomous vehicles that drive better than we do - even emulating professional racers - perhaps our first step in embracing the new technology should be checking out a defensive driving school online.
A New Age of Auto Tech
However, researchers at Toyota, the world's most successful car maker, are hard at work producing their "guardian angel" take on safety systems, the chief concern with driverless vehicles. The system is designed to kick in when it detects an emergency situation to take control or adjust driver responses. Unlike other companies that envision fully autonomous vehicles, Toyota prefers a middle ground where machine learning and human reaction combine to create a better, safer driving experience.
What this amounts to is an AI that will assist drivers with steering, braking, and other elements of navigating emergency conditions. Toyota spent over $1 billion to create a huge facility for testing and gathering data on this concept. Human drivers in smart vehicles are subjected to a variety of use cases. Their ultimate goal is a virtual driver that can work seamlessly with human beings even under the worst conditions.
Although car makers could be restructuring assembly lines to be creating what are in a sense rolling computers, everyone wants to be first to market. And the race to get there is generating some impressive tech.
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