Meet The Best Driverless Car YetBy danseitz
It’s been a dream of science fiction for decades: a car where you just climb in and the computer takes care of the rest. It’s more than just neat: most accidents are caused by human error, so take the human out of the equation, and cars suddenly become much, much safer.
But what does it take to make the safest self-driving car? About $500,000 worth of gear.
Researchers at Berlin’s Free University have been outfitting and testing a Volkswagen Passat to drive itself for four years now. Among the gear it’s toting:
- A complex computer system and satellite navigation system, of course.
- A high resolution camera on the front of the car, to spot traffic and traffic signals.
- Laser range finders on the roof and in both the front and back bumpers.
Part of the cost is simple trial and error: self-driving cars obviously need a lot of testing and fine-tuning. But the results are fairly stunning. The car has been driving around Berlin on its own, with special permission, and it’s been performing swimmingly.
So, when can you climb in your car, tell it where you want to go, and catch a nap? Well…probably not for another 30 or 40 years, alas. The problems are twofold. First of all, the cost of the technology: it has to be made to be much cheaper while still being just as effective and safe. That’s a tricky proposition.
Then there’s the small matter of the law. For example: what happens when a car driving itself crashes? Is the owner of the car liable for the damages? Is the company that made the self-driving system liable? The car maker? Who?
Still, the research isn’t going to stop, and you will see benefits: many self-driving car designs make their way to consumers as safety systems. So, while you may not be able to leave the driving to JohnnyCab, you can at least drive comfortably knowing robots have your back.