The autonomous car history started all the way back in 1925 when Houdina Radio Control has shown a radio-controlled driverless car, travelling New York City streets on Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Since then, a lot has changed, but is this really the future?
The 1926 Chandler was the first autonomous car and it was equipped with a transmitting antennae on the tonneau, being operated by a second car which followed it. This sent radio impulses caught by the antennae, which introduced the signals to the circuit-breakers operating the small electric motors. Francis’ invention was used one year later under the “Phantom Auto” name in Milwakee and it was demonstrated once again in June 1932, in Fredericksburg.
This doesn’t seem to have happened ages ago and between that technology and the Google driverless car there is a simple and yet main difference: technology. The robotic cars made by the giant company have 150,000 USD equipment in them, including the LIDAR (laser radar) system, worth alone 70,000 USD. The laser is generating a detailed 3D map of the environment which is combined with a high resolution map of the world, producing data which is allowing the car to control itself. The cameras fitted inside take pictures of the surrounding and they are supplied to the internal computer, detecting any obstacles in the way but keeping track of the road signs and road data too.
A test group of at least ten cars have been equipped with this technology, including six Toyota Prius, three Lexus RS450h and an Audi TT. The team, consisting of a dozen drivers with unblemished driving records and one of Google’s engineers, has experienced an incident in 2011 but the web giant stated that the driverless car was being driven manually at the time of the crash. Despite the visible success of the Google autonomous car (cars), the company has no immediate plans to commercially develop the system, a statement which can only bring joy.
As a good comparison here we can mention the revolution with the automatic transmission which dropped the manual versions from a lot of vehicles only to be added once again to performance models, at the request of petrol heads. There will be no more driving pleasure if autonomous cars hit the road and you won’t be able to simply get out at evening only to drive with the windows down looking at the sunset and listening to your favorite tune on the radio.
What about motorsport? No one has asked the question what will happen to motorsport in, let’s say, 100 years, because I can bet my belt that next century vehicles with the technology used today will be similar to a horse and a carriage and autonomous vehicles will be found just about everywhere. How will professional racing drivers evolve? Or will motorsport be killed? Let’s just remember the epic Group B of rallying which, unfortunately, will never come back again because of health and safety regulations, but all car fanatics will stick their heads to the monitors when playing the video posted below.
Tuning is another domain which will slightly disappear once autonomous cars will hit the market because no one will modify his ride anymore. Will we still see those hideous gold plated supercars owned by sheiks? What about emergency vehicles like the police, ambulances or fire trucks, will they be autonomous too? Will policemen involve in car chases or will patients reach hospitals faster in an ambulance? And why should I trust my house with a driverless vehicle which is coming over to put out the fire?
A lot of people currently working as chauffeurs or who are driving taxis or massive trucks for a living will lose their jobs because employers will have no reason to pay them because they can simply load the goods in the back, click “drive” and close the door and so many lives will be eventually ruined. Let’s not mention that we won’t get to see a proper test drive because things like handling or tuned suspension system will be long forgotten.
Servicing will be another major problem with autonomous driving cars because as cheap as it may be to change some sensors, lenses, lasers or the usual filters, oil or braking pads there will always be a group of people who will think that they can do it on their own, on a sunny day. And you will relax in your driverless car which was serviced properly, sipping a glass of scotch on the way to work but on the same road, a guy who has worked on his vehicle all weekend discovers a “blue screen” saying “error”.
We all have in our cars the basis for driverless cars, “cruise control”, but how many of us trust the radar guided cruise control? I sure don’t as I was so close to rearending the vehicle in front of me numerous times, and I’m not talking about a single car which can have some problems, because 99 percent of test cars have an issue with this technology. So let’s really think if we do want autonomous vehicles anytime soon and if the answer is “hell, no!” than slap the person who will bring them into discussion next time.