The Human Car on the Road Stage

Self-driving; closer than ever before
Updated 28 November 2016
Rahman Mohamed

Cars.  They’ve become a natural part of the human habitat; you see them on the road everyday.  But there’s always someone behind the “wheel”.  There they are, watching the road, looking at the traffic lights, looking out for the buses, making sure they don’t run over someone who decided to walk, and always making sure they don’t scratch the car driving next to them that has a driver too.  Soon, the driver will become obsolete.  The car will drive itself.

It’s true.  With Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau present, on June 10 CBC reported that GM was planning to hire 1000 new employees.  But they’ll be software engineers to work on creating the driver-less car.  President of the Automotive Manufacturing Association, Flavio Volpe, said

1,000 engineers is a centre of excellence. It means you’re confident in the jurisdiction. It means GM is putting their money where their mouth is.

For years Canada has been manufacturing cars for drivers.  Now it’s going to design the car that has no driver, just an extra passenger.  On January 6, 2016 GM was given approval for testing the driver-less in Stratford, Ontario.  The software for the car is coming with help from Lyft, a ride-hailing company (you find out which Lyft driver is closest to you on an app, order the service and are given a ride).

GM may be entering the market a “bit” behind schedule (maybe even multiple bytes).  Since 2009, almost a decade ago, Google began working on its own self-driving car even though the dream came to them in 1939 at the World’s Fair in New York when people saw the concept of automated highways.  In 2009 they started driving around on the Toyota Prius; a couple of years later, in 2012, they started using the Lexus RX450h; in 2014 they unveiled and later delivered the “first real build” of their own prototype.  So far, on both American Freeways and city streets, they’ve driven

more than 1.5 million miles [1.5 megabytes] and are currently out on the streets of Mountain View, CA, Austin, TX, Kirkland, WA and Metro Phoenix, AZ.

Using sensors and software Google says they’re car drives itself by asking itself by acting like a driver.  It asks itself “Where am I?”, “What’s around me?”, “What will happen next?”, and “What should I do?”.  Using software, sensors, and a map (probably Google Maps), the car figures out where in the world it is (not searching for Carmen Sandiago), figures which street and which lane its on, watches for pedestrians and cyclists, uses its software to predict cyclists path and pedestrians crossing streets and chooses the safe path; it drives by cyclists and stops for pedestrians.

Together with not behaving like a regular car, it doesn’t look like one either.  Based on the theme “my community, my neighbours” Google chose 16 pieces of art from locals to feature on its cars driving through Mountain View, California and Austin, Texas.  Not only is it not painted in a single colour, the Google Car has a complete revolution in structure.  Lasers and radars are built on the roof; they look like a police siren.  The computer is built into the car; it has a back up for steering and braking.  The car runs on electric batteries and is built with a rounded shape to maximize the sensor’s field of view.  The greatest change: no steering wheel or pedals; the car’s built to do everything; everyone else is just a passenger.

Tesla Model S hero
Tesla Model S Hero, Retrieved 2 February 2017

The Google Car isn’t on the market yet but there may be an auto-driver near you.  On October 28, 2015 (a couple of days after Back to the Future day), CBC reported the Tesla Autopilot was on Canadian roads.  It may drive itself but the Tesla Autopilot still needs a driver.  The driver turns on the autopilot; then the top speed and the distance the driver wants to from the car in front is set.  The driver still has to keep his hands on the wheel (no texting while on autopilot); if the driver takes his hands off the wheel there’s a chime from the car to tell the driver “Put your hands back on or I’m going to come to a controlled stop”.  Tesla says the autopilot is made for highway driving comparing it to autopilot for planes.

Using cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensor together with data from other autopilot cars the Tesla drives itself.  In 2015 a $3000 optional software update was offered to owners.  With 700 horsepower and an electric battery that can take a driver 400 kilometres, the Tesla Model S P85D cost just a couple of bytes too much for many with a price-tag of $150,000 (maybe a kilobyte or a gigabyte over-budget for some).

Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion, retrived 15 June 2016In look the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion surpasses.  With the look of a spaceship it is a four-seater, is built for autonomous driving when a driver isn’t needed (slow-moving traffic), has a lounge-looking interior using organic material, rotating driver chairs and touch screen technology.  It uses an electric hybrid system going up to 1,100 kilometres using a 200 kilometre battery and 900 kilometre electric fuel cell.  It’s not on sale yet.

Today autopilot cars insurance claims are covered by manufacturers, hitting a pedestrian, driving on to the curb and others are seen as system error of the non-driverless car, not the driver.

On November 28, 2016 CBC reported that Ontario will allow testing of driverless cars anywhere in the province (as long as there’s a driver there).  University of Waterloo will be driving the Lincoln MKZ hybrid sedan (aka Automoose).  The Erwin Hymer Group has a base in Waterloo; they’ll be driving a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van.  BlackBerry QNX is going to drive a 2017 Lincoln and develop its software while driving.

It was predicted that 8 months ago today we would have flying cars.  The autonomous car might soon be here but rumour has it they’re still going to need the road

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