The driver? … It’s an optional!
How do you create something really new in the automotive field?
The answer is: think different!
It is what the brilliant creators of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, made getting to an original and hardly debatable conclusion: the limit of the car we know is connected to the limits of the driver!
The driving experience, the psychophysical state and many other human factors are random variables which together determine the safety of many lives that live in an urban environment besieged by cars.
Is it possible that we leave our security in the hands of such chance?
This is probably the question that wonder the leaders of Google, eager to create a solution that introduces a breakthrough in mobility, with the ambitious goal of halving the current number of road accident victims.
Usually we think about the future of the cars only for what concerns the engine and the power, while the advanced technologies in the field of sensors, properly implemented, can provide substantial support to driving. These, however, have highlighted a crucial point: we need a brain able to quickly read several sensors and instantly provide useful information for driving. But the driver is able to make good use of this information for the benefit of driving safety?
Not always! At least until he has to drive!
But then, if the driver is the limit of the vehicle, why we do not eliminate him?
This is the foundation behind the project led by Google, thanks to the help of Sebastian Thrun, expert in Robotics at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View, and Chris Hanson, Lead Engineer.
The driver of a Toyota Prius properly arranged is replaced by a computer that analyzes in real time the information coming from a rotating scanner placed on the roof, containing 64 lasers. This “electronic eye” observes and study the environment surrounding the vehicle and provides driving instructions to the various actuators (steering, throttle, brakes, etc..) driving the car in complete autonomy.
Over 175000 miles were covered and a competition organized by the U.S. government for driverless vehicles involved in the challenge of crossing the desert was won. The Google Car was the only one to finish the competition.
The reaction time of this complex system, the precision and coldness are unattainable by a human being. The system replaces the driver and manages all the possible aspects of driving in a real environment (emergencies, difficult routes, bad weather conditions, etc..) Monitoring the whole scenario surrounding the car.
The possibilities are numerous:
• Increase (safely) the density of vehicles on the roads.
• Mobility and independence for people with limited ability.
• Public transports without driver
• Shuttle bus without driver (corporate shuttles to and from the parking)
• Possible tele control and remote monitoring of vehicles
The advent of smart grids and electric (or hybrid) powertrain multiplies the benefits of this driverless car with the infomobility services available for the passengers and for those who await their arrival.
The travel time is used more intelligently to useful activities instead of being dispersed to the trivial operations of driving. It’s like having the opportunity to travel by car, relying on an invisible, faithful and infallible driver!
No doubt that a solution like that will change our relationship with the car, and it is not absurd to think that the time will come when future generations will figure out how ridiculous it was that human beings drove the vehicles.