Science and Technology

Self Driving Cars

To say full self-driving gets closer every day is less impactful if you don’t know just how many days have already passed in the timeline.
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 Self Driving Cars

It may not be for some time yet, but Full Self Driving vehicles seem to be an eventuality. We wanted to know where the idea came from and where is it going? So we raided Google so you don't have to! 

First autonomous vehicle. If you hold an unconfirmed belief that Elon Musk invented self-driving technology sometime in the 2010s, you, like us, would be mistaken! 

GM displayed the first self-driving car at the 1939 World's Fair. The vehicle used a combination of radio control and magnets to propel the vehicle along roads prepared with magnetized metal spikes. In 1958 the vehicle took a step off the test track and into reality with sensors that would detect currents in the roadway. The electrical currents could steer the car right or left to maintain a safe position on the road. 

Later, camera systems and image processing software were added to ensure self-driving vehicles were aware of more than just where the road goes, but other vehicles, people, sudden obstacles, and even street signs. 

Enter DARPA. The US Department of Defense's research arm took an interest in the technology, hosting competitions to challenge self-navigating vehicles. The challenges started as 150-mile desert treks but eventually evolved to 60-mile-long simulated urban environments. In 2007 six vehicles completed the route. Victors of the Urban Challenge were a different brand vehicle that had been modified as a university project. 

Sounds like a done deal... no more driving for us? Most recently, Full-Self-Driving research has been the domain of private industry. Some companies have spent years and millions developing the tech, with others like Uber abandoning independent research after safety, legal, and financial factors became too much.

Is it smarter than a horse? At this time, dozens of vehicles have some form of driving assistance. The SAE has a six-tier guide for understanding the autonomy of a vehicle or system. 

0- No Autonomy; You do all the driving. 

1- Driver Assistance 👨; Thin cruise control type systems. You are the driver, but the car can follow more complicated instructions one at a time. 

2- Partial Automation 🚙; The vehicle can combine automated features such as accelerating and steering at the same time, but the driver must remain fully aware of the environment at all times. 

3- Conditional Automation 💻; This vehicle can handle most routine driving, but the driver must stay vigilant as any sudden surprise may cause big problems. 

4- High Automation 🤖; The driver is all but optional in this system. Rare circumstances require the driver's input. 

5- Full Automation 💤; The vehicle can handle all functions under any conditions. The driver could theoretically sleep and still be traveling safely. 

Current laws prohibit most Full Automation on public roads. Ongoing investigations seek to pinpoint specific issues and conditions leading to crashes with driving assistance systems across brands. It appears the closer to FSD a system becomes, the more concentrated issues are owners. Are there kinks to work out in the programming, or foundational issues stemming from roads designed for human interaction being misinterpreted by mechanical thinking? Time will tell.

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