Driverless Car Technology

By Paul Ndiho

Are you ready to ride in the back seat in a driverless car?  Well, researchers at a university in the U.S. State of Pennsylvania are putting the finishing touches on their version of a driverless car that may lay the groundwork for computers to replace humans in the driver’s seat. Driverless Cars

Scholars at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh are making a bold entrance into the technology scene with a new state of the art Cadillac prototype– the most advanced example of driverless car ever produced. The Cadillac s-u-v looks like any other ordinary car on the road. But unlike other cars, this one drives itself. Professor Raj RajKumar and his research engineering team have been working on the autonomous car since 2000, with more than $11 million dollars of funding from both the national science foundation and auto giant general motors.

RajKumar says driverless cars will one day be the norm, replacing the single biggest cause of traffic accidents on the road– human drivers.

“Over 93 percent of accidents in cars happen due to human error. People are distracted, they are sleepy maybe angry, looking at something else or they may even be drunk. If we can basically take the human out of the driving equation distractions will go away and computer will not get distracted because they are not human. So, therefore we can minimize those accidents and we can slowly take those accidents towards zero,”

Nearly all of the major car producers globally are researching driverless car technologies with plans to phase in autonomous controls over the next 10 years.  Mercedes Benz plans to offer their s-class model with autonomous capabilities like steering, braking, and parking within two years. Google’s driverless car research program has logged more than 300,000 miles on roads, mostly in the U.S. State of Nevada, where the first license for an autonomous vehicle was issued two years ago. Florida and California have also started working on legislation concerning driverless cars.

The Carnegie Mellon Cadillac model is equipped with a host of sensory technologies including lasers, cameras and radar, all of which feed their data into four onboard computers, giving the vehicle a picture of its surroundings and possible dangers in real time.  It also uses GPS and wireless technology, to give its autonomous navigation controls a sense of direction. RajKumar says the viability of a driverless car also depends on creating a network where cars can communicate with each other as well as with traffic controls on the road.

Raj RajKumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Carnegie Mellon university:

“It talks to the traffic lights. You see the status of the traffic lights as we go by. It is actually talking to them wirelessly.”

He says the car’s sense of awareness is far superior to that of a human driver– especially in dangerous road conditions.

Raj RajKumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Carnegie Mellon university:

“Suppose you are driving at night and the streetlights are off and the headlights start blinking and they die just to take an extreme example. We as humans can not perceive anymore but if the car is outfitted with a thermal imaging camera, a heat-sensing device it can actually see if there is a human or an animal in front of the car. The computer can actually detect that and stop the car. We humans can’t perceive the obstacle but the computer has,”

The Carnegie Mellon team is still working on proving that their driverless car can reliably handle all of the variables and complexities involved in what seems like ordinary drive down the road.

But RajKumar says he is confident that by the year 2020– his autonomous car will be ready for the road.  But he says getting people comfortable with the idea of letting their car’s technology take control and drive them around may take a little longer

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