How Driverless Cars Have Changed the Transportation Industry

Driverless cars can be divided into two categories: autonomous and automated. The key difference between them is whether external systems can control them or if they have their own self-governance.

Driverless cars may seem like something from the futuristic world, along with robot butlers and a Windows Operating System that doesn’t crash. However, it turns out that autonomous or driverless cars are not as distant as they might appear. Some companies have already introduced fully functional semi-autonomous cars.

The idea of hopping into a car and relaxing while it drives you to your destination is certainly exciting. But how close are we to making this dream a reality? What milestones have we reached, and what can we expect in the future? This timeline will provide you with the answers.

Who are the pioneers?

Driverless cars have been a dream for decades, and the journey to make them a reality has been long and winding. Early experiments in the 1920s and 1930s were unsuccessful, but the 1980s saw significant progress.

In 1980, Mercedes tested a vision-guided robotic van that reached speeds of 39 mph. The Prometheus Project (1987-1995) was the first serious effort to develop autonomous vehicles. The Autonomous Land Vehicle (ALV) was the first car to follow a road using computer vision and autonomous robotic control.

In 1987, HRL Labs achieved the first off-road map and sensor-based autonomous navigation. The most notable development in 1989 came from Carnegie Mellon University, which showcased the use of neural networks to steer and control autonomous vehicles. These breakthroughs laid the foundation for modern control systems in driverless cars.

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1990’s developments.

In the 1990s, while I was just a child, scientists worked on creating vehicles and technologies that could travel longer distances faster and with more autonomy.

One significant project was Carnegie Mellon University’s “Navlab” project, known as “No Hands Across America” in 1995. It completed a 3,100-mile cross-country journey, although it was semi-autonomous. For safety reasons, humans still controlled the throttle and brakes.

Another major development was the ARGO Project, which began in 1996. It used a modified Lancia Thema to follow the lane markings of a regular motorway. The vehicle covered 1,200 miles in Italy, maintaining an average speed of over 56 mph. This innovative car relied on just two low-cost black-and-white cameras and used stereoscopic vision algorithms to understand its surroundings.

Modern-day achievements.

From 2008 onward, the field of driverless cars saw notable progress.

In 2009, Ford introduced a standard self-parking system in their vehicles.

Since 2010, Google has been working on driverless cars. By 2012, their self-driving car had transported its first passenger, a blind man. Google aimed to make their self-driving cars available to the public within five years.

By 2013, Google’s self-driving cars had covered over 500,000 miles. In the same year, Nissan and Mercedes expressed their intentions to commercialize driverless cars by 2020. Mercedes also showcased a vehicle capable of traveling 62 miles in various settings, including cities, villages, and highways.

In late 2015, Tesla achieved a significant milestone with the Model S. Unlike previous cars, which were either prototypes or unrealistic concepts, the Tesla Model S combined a sleek design with an effective driverless system. This car is approximately 92% driverless, but it requires the driver to keep their hands on the wheel to respond to any issues it can’t handle, such as stopping at traffic lights. The car can take control with just two adjustments of the cruise control and demonstrates its ability to stay in the lane. Tesla maintains control through features like “Side Collision Avoidance,” “Auto Lane Changing,” and automatic parallel parking, which are common in many modern vehicles.

Driverless cars and legislation.

One significant indication of the importance and the practical potential of driverless cars is the enactment of legislation that defines and regulates these vehicles.

In the year 2000, Bill Clinton took the step of disabling selective availability in GPS, which increased the precision of civilian GPS systems.

The United States Congress, in 2001, made an effort to have 30% of military vehicles capable of autonomous operation by 2015.

In 2012, Nevada became the first U.S. state to issue licenses for self-driving cars. Then, in 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) introduced a classification system with levels 1, 2, 3, and 4. This system provides a standardized way to categorize different types of autonomous cars.

The future of driverless cars.

What’s in store for the future? Well, in Europe, the Royal Academy of Engineering predicts that by 2019, unmanned autonomous vehicles will be driving on the motorways in Britain. These vehicles will navigate traffic using a network of laser radar, GPS, and cameras.

Tesla, on the other hand, has ambitious plans. They state that the Model S is not their final venture into autonomous vehicles, and they aim to introduce a 100% driverless car within two years.

From the early days of radio-controlled cars like the Linrrican Wonder to the advanced technology of the Tesla Model S, driverless cars are no longer just a distant dream.

The automotive and robotics industries are joining forces, making remarkable progress year by year. Many newer vehicles already feature self-parking, cruise control, and automatic braking. With rapidly advancing technology, it’s only a matter of time until we have fully autonomous vehicles.