Imagine if you will, a future where voice responsive technology, GPRS systems, and onboard computers allow one to have a car that can be driven worry and hassle-free by even a toddler. No, I am not talking about the cars in Demolition Man or Minority Report, although Hollywood is not doing a bad job of imagining what kinds of cars these driverless cars may be in the future. The future is not that far off though. Driverless cars already exist here in the United Kingdom, parts of America, and China as well. All are experimental and yet deliver a very high promise for a future filled with safer cars, roads, and passengers.
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First experimented on by Tsukuba Mechanical Engineering Laboratory all the way back in 1977, the first driverless car zoomed by at a speed of 20 miles per hour. Then in the ’80s, German carmaker Mercedes Benz created a robot van capable of speeds up to 60 miles per hour and equipped with vision guidance systems. The same company eventually developed other prototypes like the VaMP, Demo I, II, and II of DARPA, as well as the VITA -2, all of which were able to achieve higher speeds and accuracy thanks to the more technologically advanced onboard computer systems and enhancements.
A driverless car manages to drive itself due to its highly intricate subsystems that are composed of 4 parts. The first part of the system is the sensors. These detect the surroundings of the car, information that is shared with system 2, or the navigation system. The navigation system is what directs the car and plots its destination. Finally, all the systems together drive the car under the motion subsystem guidance of the car. The control system then calculates every minute second of the car’s system to work flawlessly and ensure that the car shall adhere to the strict road rules and regulations in order to avoid collisions.
The car system is so precise that the driverless car technology has become of keen interest to both the British and American military for use of the soldiers in the field. Such driverless car technologies will allow soldiers to safely patrol war zones such as those in Iraq from the safety of their command posts. But much of the technology on board the cars are still highly experimental and have not been applied to the real world yet due to the high costs of manufacturing the cars. However, this is not to say that driverless cars are gathering dust and cobwebs in their development laboratories. No, these cars manage to go on display at various automotive roadshows also. The biggest roadshow of driverless cars however is known as the DARPA Grand Challenge.
DARPA is the acronym for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an organization that falls under the direct supervision of the United States Department of Defense. As a competition meant solely for the development of future driverless or autonomously driven cars, the competition awards cash prizes for the most cutting-edge driverless car designs that successfully combine fundamental discoveries with potential national-security use. These vehicles are expected to perform on various types of terrain during the competition within a limited time span. The driving course range from off-road to urban road settings.
Driverless cars are the wave of the future. The technology exists for the cars to drive themselves and have potential benefits ranging from military to handicap driving. The only question that has to be answered is “how can the technology be made more affordable for everyone to afford it?”
“DARPA”. DARPA Urban Challenge. 2007. Web.
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