What's the Future of Cars? - Vol.422
The car industry has been trying hard to keep pace with recent technological advancements. And in many respects, it seems that the future of cars is now.
There is still no Jetsons-like automobile that can fly and neatly fold into a briefcase at the press of a button. But significant breakthroughs have been made in the field of electric cars, autonomous vehicles, and AI technology integration.
It'll be interesting to see what the future holds for the car industry. But one thing is for sure - electric vehicles will become the norm and most cars will have integrated autonomous driving.
In his short story The Minority Report, Philip K. Dick described autonomous cars which elegantly glide along roads and take voice commands. And this is not the only example of autonomous vehicles in science fiction. But how far is science fiction from science fact?
As of recently, smart cameras, AI, precision sensors, and advanced computing have allowed car manufacturers to take autonomous cars beyond mere experiments. In fact, companies and labs have been experimenting with self-driving vehicles since the 1920s. To get a better picture of how far they've come, it pays to take a closer look at the early beginnings.
The History of Autonomous Cars
The first autonomous car appeared on the streets of Broadway in 1925 and it was conveniently dubbed the American Wonder. It was radio-controlled and gave the crowds a glimpse of what their grandchildren might expect in the future.
Admittedly, the very first autonomous vehicle doesn't seem as impressive and autonomous as the contemporary driverless cars. But the efforts did not stop at the American Wonder. The first car that featured the autonomy as we know it today came to life in 1977 in Japan.
Tsukuba Mechanical Engineering Lab designed the first vehicle that was truly self-driving and intelligent. The Tsukuba driverless car reached speeds of up to 18.6 mph and was able to track white markers along the road. From the seventies to this day, the push to reach complete vehicle autonomy multiplied along with the technologies that can support the efforts.
Most famously, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been organizing a for-prize challenge in search of the best autonomous vehicle designs. The challenge hosts teams from various American universities that are tasked to come with cutting-edge autonomous driving technologies.
In 2007, Tartan Racing, a team from Carnegie Mellon University, won the DARPA Urban Challenge. The team's tricked-out Chevy Tahoe showed exceptional navigation capabilities and advanced mapping which earned it the first place. This event can be considered one of the milestones for ushering in the new era of autonomous vehicles.
Autonomous Cars Today
Ten-plus years have passed since Tartan Racing topped the competition on the 60-mile urban area course. And the decade has seen more advancements in autonomous driving technology than ever before. The following examples are just some of the cars that are bound to leave a permanent mark on the automotive industry.
Tesla Model S
The all-electric Tesla Model S is the first production vehicle that popularized autonomous driving. Admittedly, for legal and safety reasons, the Teslas are not as autonomous as they might seem. The option is more like an autopilot but it does allow you to take the hands away from the steering wheel and allow the car to take over.
Autonomous Ford Fusion
Ford was quick to pick up the autonomous car pace as dictated by other manufacturers. You can hitch a ride in a fully autonomous Ford Fusion in Miami and a few other US cities. The technology will be commercially available in 2021. For now, the future of autonomous Fords looks promising.
Waymo is one of the most interesting contenders to bring autonomous vehicles to fruition. It was started as a Google project in 2009 but has grown into an independent self-driving technology company. If you apply for its Early Rider program, you will be able to enjoy the autonomous technology on a daily basis.
The cars of the future won't only be smart and autonomous. Technologies that allow greater car safety are being developed alongside self-driving systems. And the world might not be that far from having cars that take voice commands and glide in synchrony along the roads.