Will the Self-driving Car Make It Into Our Near Future?

February 14, 2013, By Daniel Rapcencu

On Saturdays I used to watch cartoons. The Jetsons (1962 to 1988) were one of my favorites.  I loved their car.

The Jetsons VehicleThe car/spaceship was under control by a joystick that sometimes had what looked like a modern-day universal remote control.  I don’t remember George using it much, so the car was autonomous for most of the time.

I dreamed about cars that would drive themselves and even fly when needed.  A few experimental car/planes existed, but nothing made it into production.

A self-driving automobile would be great and free you up to relax or even text while on your way to work or the beach.  The car would deal with the stress of switching lanes, panic stops and collision avoidance.


Although autonomous vehicles have been experimented with since 1977 in Japan, The serious research started in 2004 with the Grand Challenge by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).  $1 million was offered as the prize for a vehicle that could successfully make its way over a course without accidents.

DARPA autodriven vehicle

Other DARPA Challenges have involved mock urban area travel and the 2012 challenge was for autonomous emergency maintenance vehicles.


In 2010, Nissan demonstrated automatic brakes in their test facilities in Japan that stop the vehicle if a possible collision was detected.  The brakes were gradually applied and if the driver did not slow down, the brakes were applied in successive strengths until the car was stopped within a meter of the obstacle.

In 2006, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Lexus LS 460 introduced a self-parking system that could perform parallel parking tasks all by itself.

By 2010, several models from different manufacturers offered self-parking options.  Pricing could add an additional $5,000 to the sticker price, so I personally would only recommend it if you really hated parallel parking.

Ford park assist
Parallel parking for some people is difficult and a vehicle that can automatically do this for you is really cool.  Ford also has their version of automatic parking.

As early as 2010, Google had a self-driving automobile that had traveled from their headquarters in Mountain View, California to Santa Monica.  They had even taken a trip down Hollywood Boulevard.  Trips to Lake Tahoe where the vehicle drove completely around the lake were made and the most crooked street in the world, Lombard Street in San Francisco, was successfully navigated.


BMW parking assist 1Some Ford and Lincoln models can have the Active Park Assist for under $600 in added cost.  Toyota has this option on their Prius V Five while the Lexus LS460 and LS460 L have Advanced Parking Guidance.  The BMW 3 Series also has automated parking available.

Google has completed a lot of test driving in Nevada, as Nevada has passed a law making it legal for a driverless car to travel on the roads.  Last October 30th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Autonomous Vehicles Bill into law, so now Google can legally drive these cars on California roads.

I have seen the car driving along 85, 680 and even El Camino in Santa Clara.  It seems that it drives exactly at the speed limit and prefers the center lane of the road.


Google self driving car

Google has come a long way in a couple of years and they are still improving their technology.  By combining Street View, Maps and even Satellite views, positioning an automobile and planning a route taking into consideration the terrain and mileage of the vehicle is now possible entirely by using a computer with human intervention save from entering the destination, maybe even through voice command.

You can already experience a piece of this by renting a BMW 525 with parking assist.  Alternatively, you could go out and buy one or any of the other automobiles that offer a like option.

You will have to wait a while to get a fully autonomous car that will take you from place to place.  I can make an educated guess that by 2019 you will be able to buy a self-driving car.

The automotive technology has been making major advances in braking and steering.  Navigation has been here for years and Google has developed an interface from the navigation to the actual steering.  We also see accident-avoidance and automated situational awareness software peeking from underneath the hood.

Fighter jets have been flying themselves with some nimble fingered pilot help for years and we will see some of this technology work its way into the automotive industry.

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