As we say goodbye to 2016, it’s great to reflect on the technological advances of the past year. Standing apart from many lesser inventions, autonomous driving has taken a huge leap. Over the last 12 months, driverless vehicles have shoved their way into the eye of public consciousness.
The last year has led the way for several prominent test runs. Uber showcased their pilot project in Pittsburgh, using autonomous cars with general riders. Google launched its own self-driving project known as Waymo. Otto, another Uber-owned project, used an entire fleet of driverless trucks to carry 50,000 beers across Colorado.
The development of autonomous driving has the potential to reshape human mobility. This year may be the time in history when people realized that they didn’t have to drive anymore.
RECENT BREAKTHROUGHS IN AUTONOMOUS TECHNOLOGIES
The road to fully autonomy on highways includes many incremental steps. The basic technology has been developed. The struggle comes in transferring to varied road types and predicting the endless potential obstacles. But with each pilot run, engineers build data to increase development of more capable algorithms.
It’s impossible for technology to completely replicate the human eyes and image-processing power of the brain. Yet, it’s essential to have a form of reliable vision for driverless cars. Several cheap and easily-used devices such as cameras, ultrasonic detectors and radars are already in use.
Within the past month, a three-dimensional known as a lidar has taken center-stage in self-driving development. This formerly bulky and impractical radar system is being reconstructed into a reliable silicon chip.
This miniscule silicon chip is one of the most promising prototypes. The MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) lidar can scan up to 5,000 data points of the surroundings each second. In mass production it is expected to cost less than $250 a pop.
Using highly effective sensory systems, the autonomous vehicles can quickly detect potential hazards. The driverless can then take evasive action to avoid oncoming pedestrians, cars or other obstacles.
KEY PLAYERS IN THE RACE FOR VEHICLE AUTONOMY
Several prominent companies are investing serious research and dollars into the technology. Take Google for example. Though known as the superstar of search engines, it will also become a pioneer in the space of self-driven cars. As you’re reading this article, they’re developing a complex set of algorithms to think and react faster and smoother than human drivers.
No one can ignore the founder of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla motors, Elon Musk. His claim of producing 500,000 self-driving cars by 2020 rings in the ears of industry leaders. Not to mention the CEO of Uber, who has agreed to buy all those vehicles. Fleets of autonomous commercial taxis are not far off.
DEVELOPING COMMERCIAL DRIVERLESS APPLICATIONS
Despite the exciting advances in technological development, it may be another 10 years before driverless vehicles are common on our roads. However, the commercial applications are likely to take hold much sooner. Imagine the possibilities for public service and other job simplification uses.
Changes are coming, starting with the something as ordinary as the garbage truck the takes your trash. This service could be made simpler and driverless. Instead of two drivers, there could be only one to survey operations while the mechanical arm collects and disposes the garbage.
The commercial construction realm leads as the most dangerous industry, accounting for one in every five worker deaths. From forklifts and dump trucks to commercial trucking, autonomous vehicles could significantly increase construction safety.
Consider the various commercial vehicle applications today. Think about the numerous vehicles operating delivery services, public authority work, urban public transit, construction sites and the list goes on. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to disrupt and reshape our daily lives. It’s time to prepare for their impact.