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Self-driving car on road out of science fiction
Question of the Day
The idea of a car that drives itself was viewed until recently as some high-tech nerd’s daydream or even the stuff of science fiction, but it may not be that long before a driverless car is idling at an intersection near you.
“In my estimation, by 2015 we will have at least an engineering prototype of a vehicle with reasonable capabilities to be called a completely autonomous vehicle. In about 10 years roughly, we should be able to make it commercially available,” said Raj Rajkumar, co-director of General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Collaborative Research Labs, which oversees GM’s self-driving vehicle project.
Despite some skepticism, the industry is moving quickly toward its goal, with several companies, scientists and engineers employing robotic advancements, artificial intelligence, computer science and software development in pursuing one objective: a safe and reliable self-driving vehicle on the street.
The breakthrough, researchers suggest, may not come from one inventor or manufacturer, but from the concerted efforts by the automotive industry, along with government agencies clearing the legal and regulatory hurdles.
General Motors, one of the key players in this field, has reported significant progress in recent years, according to the company’s research and development officials.
The project gained more credibility after GM’s battery-powered Chevrolet Volt, once referred to as the struggling giant’s “moonshot project,” went on the market.
Mr. Rajkumar’s team designed a self-driving sport utility vehicle called Boss — a robotized Chevrolet Tahoe — that won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s award for autonomous driving vehicles.
Alan Taub, GM vice president of global research and development, said the company aims to produce fully autonomous vehicles by the latter part of this decade. “In less-complicated environments such as the highways, it will be ready earlier,” he said.
Another promising project involves Internet search giant Google and a fleet of a half-dozen Toyota Priuses and an Audi TT. The project is the brainchild of computer scientist Sebastian Thrun, a Google fellow, director of Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google’s Street-View mapping service.
On his blog, Mr. Thrun recounts how Google’s driverless prototype car has traveled more than 140,000 miles from the company’s Mountain View, Calif., campus to its Santa Monica office. Along the way, the car crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and traveled over the Pacific Coast Highway and around Lake Tahoe.
“We think this is a first in robotics research,” he wrote.
“I appreciate the fact that technology is at a point where you can equip a vehicle to drive autonomously,” Mr. Hansen said. “However, the auto industry is very, very conservative and it is going to take several years before it reaches the consumer.”
The march toward autonomous vehicles grew out of concerns about the number of people who die annually in vehicle accidents. Mr. Taub said the technological quest has shifted in the drive to reduce the number of fatal auto accidents. The World Health Organization, he noted, reports that at least 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road accidents worldwide.
“We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half,” said Mr. Thrun. “Were also confident that self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new ‘highway trains of tomorrow.’”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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