In 1939, American theatrical designer Normal Bel Geddes put together his vision of the future at the New York World’s Fair. The showcase was called ‘Futurama’ and allowed Bel Geddes to highlight his vision of New York in 1959; featuring city roads filled with fully autonomous electric vehicles.
His vision went on to influence countless sci-fi films, TV shows and books in the ensuing years, but his dream has remained little more than a fantasy. However, all of that is about to change with eight different major companies each working on driverless car solutions.
So, who will be first company to bring a driverless car to the market?
Is Google Winning?
Google’s driverless car solution is undoubtedly the most high profile of them all. The Internet giant has been working on its concept since 2005 and has already completed 140,000 miles of on-the-road testing with a driverless Toyota Prius, with only one incident.
That incident happened when the test car was hit from behind while stopped at a traffic light by another driver.
The Google solution uses a very prominent laser, GPS and a video camera solution on the roof of the vehicle which maps out the surrounding area and any other obstacles such as road users or pedestrians. This allows the vehicle to navigate safely to a set destination without incident.
Google has estimated that the technology will be made available to the general public between 2016 and 2018. However, there are many questions that remain unanswered regarding how the technology will implemented.
Will Google team up with a car manufacturer and supply them exclusively with Google driverless technology? Or, will this be a standalone device which all road users will be able to buy and fit to their existing vehicle?
The largest profit potential probably lies with the second option and this would also undoubtedly have the biggest immediate affect on the motoring world.
Is Fully Autonomous the Right Way to Go?
Driverless cars offer many benefits. For one, driving standards would be significantly improved on the roads. This would not only reduce congestion issues sparked by increasingly frequent accidents, but also reduce car insurance premiums for motorists as it is likely that fewer claims would be made if human errors were eradicated from the equation.
However, not everyone is completely happy with the prospect of putting their lives in the hands of a computer; regardless of the success of the Google solution thus far. A number of manufacturers are therefore working on autonomous vehicle solutions which only work at low speeds.
Mercedes-Benz, for instance, has plans to release an S-Class model later this year which is equipped with a driverless car solution. The system will operate the car at speeds below 25 mph to aid with tedious inner city driving.
Mercedes is leading the way in the race to be first to market with this solution, but it is not quite as advanced at the moment as a solution being worked on General Motors.
The American colossus is developing a solution which is capable of dropping off and picking up its owner, allowing motorists to go off to their meetings or go shopping while the car parks itself.
The owner will then be able to specify a pick-up location and time using a smart phone app without actually being in the vehicle. General Motors is currently estimating that this very promising system will be available on its vehicles by 2015.
Will it Take Off?
There is widespread pessimism about driverless cars, with many people not being overly keen to rely on driverless cars at high speeds. The inner city and self-parking solutions being developed by General Motors might therefore be the right way to go at the moment; helping motorists avoid some of the aspects of driving which often prove to be the most frustrating.
Nevertheless, as with any innovation, it will still take a significant amount of time for driverless cars to become mainstream and it would, of course, only be available on cars produced by limited number of manufacturers.
The prospect of Google making this a standalone device which can be added to any existing vehicle offers perhaps the best chance that driverless cars have on becoming the norm over the next decade.
Driverless Car Infographic
MoneySupermarket has put together the following infographic, summarizing all of these findings. However, perhaps the most surprising thing to come out of this is the realization that driverless cars are far closer to becoming a reality than has been generally acknowledged.