Remember when you were a kid, dreaming about a self-driving car? The future is here – well, almost here. Audi, Google, Lexus, Tesla and some others are currently working on self-driving automobiles. In fact, there are already some autonomous features on some of these companies' cars. For example, Audi's prototype "piloted driving" system can drop you off, park itself and then pick you up when you're ready to leave. No more trying to find a parking spot on a Saturday at the mall, no more hassle with a valet and no more worrying about carrying your groceries to your car – piloted driving does it all for you. Once it's on the market, it could change everything. Sound cool? Well, that's only the beginning.
It's estimated that within the next few years, cars will become completely autonomous. Tesla's Elon Musk claims that it is five to six years away from fully autonomous vehicles becoming a reality – and he should know. Tesla recently unveiled its new Model S, which has autopilot capabilities. The Model S comes equipped with a camera that can recognize objects and road lines. This means that it's capable of looking for other cars and staying within lines. It also includes a forward-looking radar and a 360-degree sonar. It boasts active emergency braking, self-parking as well as lane control. So not only can it correct you from drifting into other lanes, it can potentially prevent you from hitting objects – like other cars or obstacles. The goal of autonomous cars will be to eventually have you – the driver – simply as another passenger in the car. How cool is that?
In some ways, Google is taking the idea of autonomous vehicles to a completely different level. Developers at Google created an algorithm with the ability to learn, much like a human. Researchers have demonstrated that the algorithm can master Atari video games – sometimes better than humans – by playing the game and learning from the experience. You may be asking yourself, "What does this have to do with cars?" Well, the idea is that if this particular Google algorithm can master a car racing game, it should be able to master driving a vehicle, safely.
Google's autonomous cars have already driven thousands of miles around its home in Mountain View, California, where the company built detailed maps with data such as traffic signal height and curb positions. This data has been loaded in to the prototype automobile's computer and as it drives, it makes a comparison between the installed map and the vision of its sensors. Eventually, it'd be best to not rely on these maps, as it would be difficult to construct them for the entire world, and they would have to be regularly updated. However, Google seems to be on the right track.
Are autonomous cars the automobile of the future? It sure seems that way. If the technology keeps progressing, chances are, in a few years, we'll be snoozing on the way into the office every morning.