The Future of Locomotion: Autonomous Driving

bmw self driving car

CES, the annual event that serves as a platform to showcase some of the most creative and path breaking inventions of the year has always been host to a wide array of developers from every field. Although phone and chip makers have always been regulars at the event developers from various other industries have slowly entered the fray.

ces 2014
CES brings together some of the most innovative ideas and path breaking technologies from manufacturers from across the globe

CES 2014 and 2015 saw the debut of BMW’s and Audi’s autonomous driving technologies. Both manufacturers have developed systems capable of maneuvering, accelerating and braking in high speed, high risk conditions. This new technology has been long touted to be the future. With game developers, film producers and even scientists proposing radical new modes of autonomous locomotion, the world strongly believes that the next big leap for the auto industry will be the autonomous driving era.

google self driving car
Tech giants such as Google have also shown keen interest in the field of self driving cars

Although BMW debuted its self driving tech much earlier, a far more refined system was showcased last year. Dubbed ConnectedDrive, the system was developed in-house by BMW’s Technik division. The project aims at making a some of the cars in the German automaker’s range fully autonomous by 2020.

bmw self driving car
BMW aims for a fully autonomous range by 2020

Demonstrated with the German car maker’s 6 Series Gran Coupe and 2 Series, the presentation featured the cars navigate an entire race course with no input from the driver whatsoever. More than that however, the Bimmers put on a breathtaking show with smokey burnouts and tail spins. The Bavarian manufacturer’s Autonomous driving tech painted the future in a new and wondrous light.

Audi, BMW’s biggest rival made its big leap into the future with its “Piloted Driving” system. Though not fully dependent on the computer’s vast array of sensors and processors as BMW, Audi’s new tech is just as impressive. While BMW showcased its system at CES in closed grounds, Audi took it one step further by testing the concept on a long distance drive from San Francisco all the way to Las Vegas where the event is held. Affectionately named Jack, the Audi sportsback managed to travel the 900 km journey with minimal input from the driver.

audi rs7 autonomous car
Audi’s customized RS7 made it through a 900 km journey with almost no driver input whatsoever

The self driving Audi car serves as a bridge between pure autonomous vehicles and our current generation. Similar to our transition from candle light to electricity, the shift from modern day locomotion to autonomous driving will be a gradual one. Although BMW envisions the grand future, Audi’s self driving A7 gives us an idea about what the very near future of road traffic will be.

While most of civilization embraces the future, some experts are rather discouraged and even dismiss the idea of autonomous driving. The idea of self driving cars may evoke images of a safer and less threatening future, however, in actuality, shocking latent ethical and legal complications frequently arise in the most common of situations.

Wired magazine’s Patrick Lin explores the mind boggling moral ramifications of simply designing a crash aversion and damage control algorithm for cars. He suggests that the development of such an algorithm is not unlike the design of a targeting mechanism. On the surface, these algorithms may be seen as a method for terrorist attacks. However, bizarre ethical and legal issues raise their ugly heads in real world applications. For example, consider an imminent crash wherein the autonomous crash must make a decision between colliding with a motorcyclist with a helmet and a motorcyclist without.

Common sense and probability dictates that the vehicle must collide with the biker that has a higher chance of survival i.e. the one wearing the helmet. This leads to a situation where the motorist adhering to the rules is punished. This will in turn lead to a radical change in riding habits of most bikers. By cultivating hazardous driving habits, such motorists will be less prone to “attack” from the on-board computer systems. A strange consequence of autonomous driving.

By ensuring cars and bikes are safer in tougher conditions, consumers have a tendency to push harder with the knowledge that the car has been designed to provide better safety. There is no escaping the veiled hurdles of the future but as Mr. Lin suggests, with conscious effort from consumers and a better understanding of what is under the hood of the car of the future, we can better appreciate and implement this new technology.

Driver less Cars – will hit the roads soon

There has been drastic change in terms of the growth of automobiles from the past era. Today’s automobiles are equipped with modern technologies which makes the vehicle more refined, efficient, comfortable, safe and attractive. Some of the technologies include efficient engines, body styling and aerodynamics, safety features, light weight, improved tire industry, hybrid and electric vehicles and alternative fuels. Thus all these things point to the amount of research that has been put into the automobiles for several decades. Considering limited dependency on conventional fuels petrol and diesel, various future mobility solutions like hydrogen powered vehicles, electric vehicles , solar cars and compressed air powered vehicles are being researched in the global automotive industry.

Mobility Solution:

One more interesting future mobility solution that has come into picture is the Driverless Car. The concept has come up in order to address the accidents on the roads and also the fatigue of the driver during long drivings.  Yes, these are the vehicles which will not be controlled by the drivers and rather will be controlled by automatic mechanical and electronic systems throughout your journey. Just imagine a driver less car on the road which is capable of performing various functions like braking, accelerating, identifying the traffic signals, cornering and changing lanes. It would be really interesting to notice such cars on road!!!

Thus it would behave like a robotic car which will take you to any desired location of yours and you just need to relax and enjoy the ride.Considering the road conditions in which we drive,you might be thinking that how such vehicles will recognize when to brake, when to stop at traffic signals, when to change lanes, when to steer and how much to steer, how to avoid any obstacles on road and many other things. But we need to support the type of research automotive engineers are doing to develop such concepts.Google has come up with a prototype of a driver less car. Apart from Google, car manufacturers like Mercedes Benz, Volvo, BMW and Audi are also working on automation in the driving process.

Driver less vehicles have three basic things to accomplish: Braking, Acceleration and Steering.

Braking:

The vehicle needs to brake during traffic signals, to keep a safe distance from the front car and in case of pedestrian crossing. In order to automate this process , sensors can be installed on the wheels or bumpers for detecting close cars. BMW is working on usage of ultrasonic sensors for detecting objects.  A 3D imaging device is required to get all the images of the environment which is then fed into the algorithm of braking. LIDAR(a radar set up) is used by Google prototype vehicle for capturing the images  and is mounted on the top of the vehicle. Finally the braking algorithm needs to be developed to take in all the data from sensors, LIDAR and provide output for braking.

Acceleration:

It requires the vehicle to understand the traffic patterns, maps and speed limits. Braking technologies will be reused to develop the acceleration algorithm.

Steering:

The vehicle needs to be equipped with inbuilt navigation system for guiding itself. Along with GPS(Global positioning system), the algorithms of braking and acceleration will also play important role in making algorithms for steering functionality.

Thus all these issues needs to be considered for developing driverless vehicles

GOOGLE Prototype Vehicle:

Google Prototype Vehicle
Google Prototype Vehicle

The vehicle looks like a compact city car. It has a stop-go button and no pedals, steering wheel. It can accommodate two passengers and the speed is limited to 40kmph for safe driving. The vehicle is propelled by electric motors. The front of the vehicle is made using a foam like material which will ensure safety for pedestrians. It uses a radar system mounted on the roof top for getting the images from the environment.

It also makes use of Google Road Maps for navigation of the vehicle from one point to another. Google has also announced that these prototypes have been tested for 7,00,000 miles on auto mode and are now focusing on busy street roads. They are also hoping to see these vehicles on road within a year.Also there are several cases where we need to be cautious with respect to this technology. One of which is the situation when the computer does not respond and requires human intervention for driving. The people seated in the car may not pay attention to it and this might lead to an accident. Thus rigorous testing is being done by Google for ensuring that they have covered all the possibilities in the driving scenarios.

Drawbacks of Driver-less Cars:

Bottom Line:

These vehicles have the true potential of bringing a change in the transportation system in terms of safety aspects, reduced pollution and  traffic congestion.  These vehicles have the ability to remove driving error and thereby reduce accidents.
Innovation at its best!