It seems that self driving cars are going to be all the rage. It began, of course, with Google. The search engine giant pioneered the idea and soon had prototypes zipping around the Google HQ complex in Mountain View California. Now it seems that Nissan have joined the party, announcing on Tuesday that they intend to create a commercial fleet of self-driving cars by 2020.
Known as autonomous cars, the vehicles use upgraded software in order to replace the role of the driver. Through a combination of computer brains and multiple cameras for eyes, alongside advanced sensors which constantly calculate the distance from other cars and objects, such vehicles have quickly moved from science fiction to commercial feasibility. After years of experimentation, Nissan have stuck their necks on the line and have out a date on making these cars into a reality.
This is not some whimsical announcement to gain some press attention from Nissan. The company have been known to be investing in this technology – on an advanced global level – for some time now. The Japanese company plan to build a special test arena for these cars in their HQ, which will be complete by 2014. This is an indicator that they have successfully advanced the technology to the point of stage one external testing.
Critical to the success of such cars, in Nissans opinion, is making them affordable for all. Nissan see these as autonomous cars as the cars of the future, not a mere singular offering within their line-up. Therefore their aim is to have self-driving versions of all cars within the Nissan line-up by 2020. Naturally that line-up is nearly impossible to predict in 2013, as no doubt the line-up will evolve markedly over the next seven years.
“In 2007 I pledged that – by 2010 – Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle,” Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, said. “Today, the Nissan LEAF is the best-selling electric vehicle in history. Now I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it.”
So why would we want to adopt autonomous drive? There are a number if objectives, even if the cars are unlikely to immediately appeal to all.
One definite area is safety. These cars will feature a 360 degree safety shield, which will eliminate driver blind spots, ensuring the car always knows what’s going on in its environment. In theory, autonomous drive should reduce road traffic accidents.
As our cities continue to grow, the ever busier road systems will lead to much busier and more dangerous conditions. Self-driving cars, with their computer powered intelligence and 100 percent, omnipresent concentration could be better placed to cope with such systems. Most RTA’s are caused by driver error, and the majority of those are caused by a simple loss of concentration or a distracted driver. Whether its a sat an instruction, a text message or an attempt to apply make-up in the rear view mirror, there’s a multitude of reasons why simple rush hour prangs happen.
By handing over to the car itself to get us to our destination, things should run smoother. The car will atomically choose the fastest route using satellite navigation. It will be able to operate safely within closer proximity to other vehicles. In the future, these cars will most likely ‘talk’ to one another too, allowing each vehicle to understand what the surrounding cars are planning to do next.
As the driver role becomes more passive, drivers will be able to give more attention to other matters, from chatting with passengers to checking emails. Whilst these cars don’t yet render the driver redundant, they do dramatically reduce his role.
However, for many driving is a passion. Many of the worlds leading car companies, from the Porsches to the Ferraris exist to allow drivers to enjoy the thrill of driving. Man and machine in harmony, a great A-Road and the chance to let her loose. So won’t self-driving autonomous cars be boring?
For that very reason, they’re never likely to fully take-over. However in the right environment – with urban ones coming most to mind – these cars could just be the future. There’s never been a joy in driving around cities like New York and London in rush hour, so why not let the car take over?
What’s your take? Share your thoughts in the comments below.