On the Road to the Future- Smart Car Technology

Smart car is a term that can be used to describe the new types of motorized vehicles that are being created and tested by several car companies today. To be more accurate, smart cars can be defined as autonomous, self -driving, or robotic cars that navigate the road and operate without human interaction. One of the earliest autonomous vehicles created by Navlab in 1986. The Navlab 5, was the first car to drive coast-to-coast in the USA autonomously in 1995. The technology that drives and operates the newest versions of the types of autonomous vehicles are advanced, however, these vehicles are currently not permitted on public roads and require a human driver to be behind the wheel.

Smart cars are driven and evolving rapidly with a variety of technology driven features. For example, Tesla is developing an autopilot system which includes automatic steering, lane change and parallel parking. While not 100% driverless, it is probably the closest we have come to the dawn of ‘robot cars’. This type of technology uses Bayesian Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithms, which fuse data from multiple sensors and an off-line map into current location estimates and map updates.

Also, other, simpler innovative technologies seem to be on the verge of becoming a tangible reality, particularly those which involve screens. Key fobs (remote key chains-an integral component of a keyless entry system) will soon have an LED display showing information about your vehicle; holographic windshield will display an array of information like driving speed and directions, while even the time-honored owner’s manual will inevitably become an app instead of a physical booklet. Wireless charging stations for key fobs are being placed on vehicle consoles for convenience.

In addition, collision avoidance systems, an automobile safety system designed to reduce the severity of a collision, is also being developed by many auto manufacturers. This technology uses radar (all-weather) and sometimes laser (LIDAR) and camera (employing image recognition) to detect an imminent crash. Since 2004, auto makers such as Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors and more have used a form of an automobile safety system in their new vehicles. Benefits of smart cars, according to researchers include the decrease of vehicle collisions due to human driver error, including, distracted driving, tailgating and aggressive driving. Some concerns with autonomous cars, include software reliability, the need for specialized road maps and navigation in inclement or unpredictable weather conditions and most importantly legal liability in case of an accident.

Currently, companies like Tesla, Uber and Google are trying out autonomous cars in a variety of scenarios, including, one and two driver scenarios in addition to 100% automated vehicles. These prototypes and trials have tested autonomous vehicles on the road and accumulated thousands of miles with varying results. As of 2016, there are 7 U.S. states that allow driver-less cars public road testing. Google’s self-driving vehicle is scheduled to be available to the public between 2017 and 2020. It’s intended to be an autonomous, all electric vehicle. As expected, other major car companies are racing to get their models on the market. Despite the potential legal and technical issues with smart cars, they are part of the future of transportation.

*Contribution by Sonja Mckenzie.