Last year, my brother bought a new Infiniti, with all the bells and whistles. But, of all the neat features the car possessed, the one that impressed me most was the system that automatically redirected the car if it came too close to the car in front of it or a vehicle in the adjoining lane. Riding in it made me wonder how much longer it would be before cars no longer need a human driver at the wheel.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Google (the computer software giant) was busy proving that a self-driving car is capable of traveling 300,000 miles without having an accident. We are now seeing a bond forming between software companies and auto manufacturers that rivals the connection between the car and oil oligopolies. And, why not?
Our modern automobiles are already “wired” far more than most people might suspect. Of course, for years, we’ve known that our cars contain “embedded” computers, but the Center for Automotive Research recently co-sponsored a study that shows the average American vehicle includes about 100 million lines of computer code to run engines, electric braking and steering systems, and other features that are forerunners to self-driving cars. Like my brother’s Infiniti, all cars will soon have lane warning systems and computer-supported traction control.
The Google Prius
The car that Google used to make its point was a Toyota Prius, but it had a driver behind the wheel. However, the human was there only for show. The car uses a combination of GPS (global positioning system), radar, and a 3-D mapping camera mounted on the roof, and it can “see” traffic signals and road lanes, as well as pedestrians. Everything operates in “real time” processing, which simply means that the computer instantly reads conditions and responds to them...