It was October 20th, 2015 when the world’s first self-driving car took its debut voyage. The journey was conducted by Google’s Waymo project and was a simple test as the vehicle travelled from a local doctor’s office to a nearby park. The passenger was a blind man by the name of Steve Martin and when the car reached its destination, Steve Martin became the first person to ride in a self-driving car on public roads. This historical moment also marked the first time Steve Martin was alone in a car in 12 years. Google’s Waymo project implemented software and sensor technology developed in Google’s lab since 2009. With safety at the core of Google’s Waymo Project, the team set out to create an autonomous vehicle capable of making calculated decisions. To achieve safety through self-driving cars, Google built their self-driving car to use technology which is designed to detect pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles and road works in a 360-degree field of vision.
Fitted with advanced cameras, Google’s self-driving car may detect objects on the road with, including details like a cyclist extending their arm. This information is processed by the vehicle and it may react accordingly, slowing or making room for a cyclist to pass if necessary. Since driving seems to be about processing information and making informed decisions based on external input, Google have fitted their cars with several sensory inputs; 3D digital maps are used, which include lane markers and traffic signals, cameras, lasers and 360 degrees lasers, which allow Google’s self-driving car to pinpoint its location day or night.
All this technology means Google’s self-driving cars may be equipped to recognise and respond to various scenarios, including anticipating how others might behave. The programming behind this self-driving car ensures the vehicle navigates roads conservatively, slowing when required or granting extra room to cyclists. To help their self-driving car handle different scenarios, Google’s self driving cars have driven over two million miles on public roads and across four U.S. cities. In 2016, Google was able to capture and process over 1 billion miles of simulated driving. As the vehicles learn to adapt to new scenarios, Google aim to deploy more self-driving cars and to date, there are around 60 vehicles being testing on public roads. This adaptive philosophy may see the various self-driving prototypes testing in new ways as the programming continues to improve with each scenario.
From Google’s self-driving debut, proving the possibility of self-driving cars, several other manufacturers have announced they aim to enter the field of vehicle autonomy and develop their own prototypes. With the possibility of autonomous vehicles becoming a reality, manufacturers like Volvo have announced they aim to have 100 self driving cars on the road in 2017. Companies like Uber already have functioning self driving cars models too, while manufacturers may still be at work perfecting their first prototypes.
Outside of car manufacturers, technology-focused companies like Intel have already expanded their product line to innovate with self-driving technology. It may be several years before consumers get to sit in their first self-driving car, yet this field seems to be expanding as more companies invest in the concept. With several prototypes in circulation, it might be common to see more cars on public roads with 360-degree camera rigs attached to the roof. Whether helping those with disabilities travel or improving safety by making cars which adapt and prioritise safety, the technology industry seems to be making a large push toward self-driving cars.
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