Autonomous Cars: Coming to a Street near You

Kitt was the 1982 Pontiac Trans Am that had the ability to pick up Michael Knight by itself, so the two of them could fight the bad guys in the 1980s television series “Knight Rider.” And now it’s just a matter of time until Americans can have their own Kitt.

Nvate Driverless cars and autonomous cars by Google and MIT, car safety

Photo of Lexus RX 450h retrofitted by Google for its autonomous car fleet. Credit: Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons

Google and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are leading the charge in developing autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. Nevada, California and Florida have already legalized the cars for testing on public roads, according to U.S. News.

Google’s version of driverless cars have gone more than 300,000 miles without getting into an accident, reported, which shows the technology is safe and effective.

The Promise of Driverless Cars

Tens of thousands of Americans die in car accidents each year and hundreds of thousands more are injured. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated there were 32,788 fatalities as a result of traffic accidents in 2010. The driverless car’s goal is to remove human error from the driving equation, which is the reason for more than 90 percent of all car accidents.

Google stated that when driving at 40 mph, its driverless car can stop 3 feet faster than a human would be able to stop, according to U.S. News. That 3 feet can be the difference between a serious accident or just a heart-racing close call.

Autonomous Car Technology

The two main, driverless-technology proprietors are Google and the MIT. MITs technology is known as CarSpeak, according to Network World, and works with a robot operating system to drive its autonomous technology.

Google is currently in talks with Tesla to integrate its technology into its line of electric cars, according to USA Today. This technology would not only benefit those who enjoy late nights out at drinking establishments, but can even assist the blind in running daily errands.

The 2013 Toyota Avalon specs state that the popular car can automatically do things like unlock doors and maintain a comfortable temperature. There are even cars that park themselves now, Autoblog stated. The next step is complete autonomy; it’s just a matter of exercising patience.

BMW is another company that’s working to bring driverless cars to the mainstream market. Its navigation technology is centered on the internal wiring and coding of a vehicle, and today’s cars can have up to 200 processors and as much as a mile of wiring, according to NBC News. This coding and wiring has the potential to become so advanced that some hypothesize that driverless cars won’t just be transporting humans, but that humans will be able to summon such vehicles from a smartphone application.

Competition and Controversy

There has been talk about how much the cars Google and MIT will cost the average consumer. The Google version is by far the most expensive, with Business Week stating their initial offering will cost upward of $75,000. But a 19-year-old inventor from Romania named Ionut Alexandru Budisteanu said his technology is just as effective as Google and can be had for about $4,000. Researchers at Oxford University say they have built a high-tech, self-driving camera that costs roughly $150, according to Engadget.

Another controversy is how these cars would affect insurance companies and municipalities. Google adamantly believes and conveys that its self-driving vehicles are safer than those driven by a human being. And with the data to back it up, insurance rates would obviously be much lower than a car driven by a human. These are the legislative and regulatory hurdles that autonomous technology will have to clear, in addition to the safety tests, according to CNET.

Autonomous cars would also, theoretically, cut into municipal revenues, as speeding tickets and other moving violations would practically be eliminated. Cities and counties would have to find other resources to make up for the loss.

Autonomous cars have already been on the roads in three states, and the technology has certainly gotten the attention of lawmakers in the nation’s capital. While there’s no date set in stone for when the first driverless cars will become available to the public, the technology is ready and waiting. But more testing and legislative maneuvering is necessary before Kitt can be parked in every American’s driveway.

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