The Future of Autonomous Cars

Cybernation: Understanding Technology
Sheridan College
Patricia Simpson & Nipun Sehgal
Derrick Millard
March 31, 2014

(Hudson, 2013)

What is an autonomous car you ask? An autonomous car, also known as a driverless car, self-driving car or robot car, is a self-directed vehicle capable of achieving the human transportation capabilities of a traditional car. As a driverless vehicle, it is able to sense its environment and navigate without human intervention (Wikipedia, 2013).

As we explored within our modules, Google had launched their very first self- driving car. Although, Google is not the first of its class to invent this technology, in fact, the first self- driving car was created in 1986 (Albanesuis, 2010). Before we get into discussing the future of this amazing technology, allow us to share a bit about it's history.

The concept of self-driven cars began in 1940’s when Ralph Teetor, a blind mechanical engineer developed and patented Speedostat in 1953, today known as Cruise control (The Automotive Hall of Fame,  2014). “The purpose of a cruise control system is to accurately maintain the driver's desired set speed, without intervention from the driver, by actuating the throttle-accelerator pedal linkage. (Ciulla, 2014)”

Ralph Teetor: Inventor of the Speedostat now known as Cruise Control

After the invention of the cruise control system came the Eureka Prometheus Project which was active from 1986-1995. This program was supported by many European car manufacturers, electronics companies, universities, and other institutions. The program was originally intended to improve traffic safety, and incorporated an autonomous vehicle component, referred to as VITA. This was essentially a cruise control option, but it used a sensor which decelerated the vehicle when it sensed a slower object in its path. The outcome of this programme was referred to as "autonomous intelligent cruise control system" which has now been integrated into existing Mercedes-Benz vehicles (Albanesius, 2010).

  Following the innovations during the Eureka Project, came the ARGO project. The project was developed from 1996-2000. This project altered a 2000 Lancia Thema, integrating a new technology system known as the GOLD system or Generic Obstacle and Lane Detection system; allowing the vehicle to drive autonomously in real traffic conditions along highways and freeways (Broggi, Bertozzi, Fascioli, &  Conte, 1999). “Researchers conducted a six-day road test in June 1998 that traversed 1,242 miles of Italian highways. The MilleMiglia in Automatico ARGO car drove itself autonomously through flat and hilly regions, viaducts, and tunnels. About 94 percent of the journey or 1,211 miles was done autonomously.”  (Albanesius,  2010)

With the history of autonomous cars being so successful in developing advanced technologies, it allows companies to incorporate these designs as well as develop more complex models. There are many companies to this date working to create their own versions of Google's Self-Driving Car. Such as Mercedes Benz S500 Intelligent Drive Research Vehicle, BMW M235i, Tesla Roadster, and the electric self-driving shuttle Navia. Each company seems to be forecasting different times in which they will deem their technologies fit for show, as each company sets different expectations for themselves. An example of this is Tesla, targeted release for 2016 and to be 90% autonomous. Audi, BMW, Nissan, and Mercedes targeted self-driving capabilities by roughly 2020 while Ford promised 2017 (Dorrier, 2014). With the promised release dates comes the fact that the level of autonomous standards in which each company will reach will be interesting to see. Self driving technologies have a ranking system 0-5, with the majority of current technology being at a 3 on the ranking meaning; the vehicle is in full automation in certain situations such as highway driving and the "driver" does not have to keep their eyes on the road at all times. It has been speculated by experts that level 4 & 5 cars will be available in 2025-2030, these levels do away with any human control of the vehicle such as the pedals and steering wheel (Dorrier, 2014).   

Below is a video which was filmed live for Good Day LA. It features Nissan's version of the autonomous driverless car; Nissan 360 autonomous. As the host explains, the car is very ecofriendly, contributing zero emissions. The video depicts the different screens which are used to display the vehicle's sensor images, as well you will see that the "driver" is not really driving, he is not contributing any intervention towards the cars control. As you can see, the car is able to determine the proper speed to travel at, as well as determine when to decelerate to avoid colliding with other vehicles and objects. This like many other models of autonomous vehicles is designed to and is able to travel on highways with as much precision as any regular car under a drivers control, maybe even better!


As stated in the video above, the technology for autonomous vehicles is set to be marketed, the transportation industry is just waiting for the legal element to be put in place. The first state to allow the operation of an autonomous vehicle was Nevada in 2011, since that time  California, Florida and the  District of Columbia have all passed legislation to allow for the testing of self-driving vehicles on their roads (Governing, 2013). This being said, many laws still need to be worked on in order to govern the "drivers" of these self-driving cars.

  When you think about Self- driving cars I'm sure many think "I would love a self-driving car to drive me to work in the morning so I can get a few extra minutes of sleep", "Having a self-driving car would be awesome because I could consume alcohol and not have to call a taxi because my car will drive me home" or how about "I don't have my licence so having a self driving car means I don't have to go through the headache of graduated licensing!!" well I'm sorry to burst your bubble!  "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that states require properly-licensed drivers to be in the driver's seat and ready to take control, even when the vehicle is in self-driving mode (Governing, 2013)." In light of this technicality, this means that the same laws which apply to the driver of a normal car, apply to the licenced driver of an autonomous car. Moreover, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol would be prohibited, as well as distracted driving and of course speeding. There is still quite a lot of controversy, which will need to be further investigated, with regards to vehicle accidents. Whether or not the "driver" would be at fault as they themselves are not doing the driving, or the fault may fall upon the manufacturer (Governing, 2013).


Each vehicle manufacturer sets their own precedent for safety in the engineering of their vehicles. Although, a general consensus of most manufacturers of autonomous cars is the aim for reduced emissions and reduced death related to vehicle accident rate.

"For us, autonomous vehicles are an important step on the way to accident-free driving. They will bring greater comfort and safety for all road users. That's because autonomous vehicles also react when the driver is inattentive or fails to spot something." ~Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Mercedes-Benz

In conclusion, the future of driving & transportation will be a very interesting one. One day you may have a car in which drops you off to do your shopping, waits patiently for you to finish, and picks you up. The ability for these cars to also run as ecofriendly, emission free cars is good for both the environment and your wallet as it reduces the cost of fuel tremendously. Around 54 million of these cars will hit the road worldwide by the end of 2035 - 2050 all the cars running on the road will be self-driven (Dorrier, 2014). So what do you  say? Are you ready for this change?


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