Look, No Hands, or Feet…

By ZAC PALMER, Staff Writer

The autonomous car is no pipe dream, or impossible fantasy that is beyond our reach. Car manufacturers and technology companies alike are leading the way in the pursuit for driverless operation of a vehicle.

driverlesscarThe first steps of greater autonomy are already on the market. Driver assistance technologies are being applied by companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Ford and BMW, along with many others.

These systems include; adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and blind spot monitoring systems. These technologies are deployed using lasers, sensors, and cameras, coupled with the car’s computer, which recognizes and interprets the information into action or information the car can understand or the human can override.

Adaptive cruise control utilizes lasers that detect the car in front of you and will slow down or accelerate your vehicle to keep the same traveling distance between you and the car in front. The system can bring a car traveling at seventy miles per hour to a dead stop without the driver touching a pedal or pressing a button.

Lane keeping assist sees the traffic lines on the ground and will actually adjust the wheel to keep the car within its desired lane, even if the road curves. These two technologies combined make it possible for the driver to sit in the driver’s seat and watch the car drive itself on the freeway.

The ultimate goal though would be making a car that needs no driver involvement whatsoever. A car that is capable of perceiving its surroundings and reacting as it should makes this project beyond challenging.

Most of the experimental cars utilize a system called LIDAR, which is a cluster of lasers placed on a rotating turret. This allows the computer to sense everything around it and will make decisions based on the information it collects.

As of right now autonomous cars are legal in four states: California, Nevada, Florida, and Michigan. Google is perhaps making the biggest push with the autonomous car, and have around a dozen cars driving around at any given time. Their accident record is spotless after hundreds of thousands of miles put on their test vehicles.

Elon Musk at Tesla just unleashed the Model D to the world on October 10. The Model D is the same basic car as the Model S, but with some very important modifications.

There is nothing tame about this electric car because it produces 691 horsepower and goes 0-to-60 in 3.2 seconds. What separates this particular car though is the level of autonomy it brings to the table. Musk called it an ‘Autopilot’ feature.

It includes the features mentioned earlier and builds on top of them. You can have the car park itself in your garage and it also has a “summon mode”, which will bring the car to you with your climate control set as desired. The Tesla can read speed limit signs and actually slow down for you and it will gain the ability to change lanes with the flick of a turn signal.

Tesla is piecing the autonomous car together slowly rather than jumping right in, and I think that’s a good choice. There are many questions that remain to be solved in the pursuit of autonomy, but I do believe it’s coming whether consumers like it or not. Elon Musk took one more step towards a fully autonomous production car, and consumers now have to respond. Will they embrace and trust this new technology, or throw it to the curb?