How Soon Will We Be Traveling in Driverless Cars?

Today is the day that driverless cars have arrived in New York City. Although we’re unlikely to be navigating traffic in them anytime soon. 

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These cars were created by Optimus Ride, a startup by five graduates from MIT in 2015. Right now, they’re located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, far from other cars, pedestrians, and bikes. But soon, the public will be able to try them out, traveling to and from a new ferry landing. They’re completely free, and passengers can just hop in. 

It feels like we’ve been hearing about autonomous, driverless vehicles for years now, so why are they not yet on the road? 

The History of Driverless Cars

Believe it or not, but our fascination with self-driving cars dates all the way back to Leonardo Da Vinci, who created plans for a self-propelled cart in 1478. However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century when Houdina Radio Control Company first demonstrated a driverless car in 1925. The car was guided by signals from a car driving close behind. 

In 1939, Norman Bel Geddes revealed an exhibit at the World’s Fair. His exhibit was called ‘Futurama’ and was both groundbreaking and a realistic depiction of what a city of the future could look like. In it, he introduced an automated system of highways, which would link communities and cities, allowing cars to move autonomously and ensuring passengers arrived safely. 

Interestingly, General Motors began developing and promoting a line of cars which were custom-built based on Bel Geddes’ concept. Unfortunately, the federal government wasn’t convinced enough to put up $100,000 per mile to turn this dream into reality. 

Around the same time, the United Kingdom began trialing its own driverless car system. The technology was similar to General Motors’ plans, however, researchers paired a magnetic rail track (running underneath the road) with a Citroen DS which had been fitted with electronic sensors. Unfortunately, just like the American version, the project was canceled due to costs- despite tests and analysis showing that the system could reduce accidents by 40%, increase road capacity by 50%, and pay for itself by the end of the century. 

In 1986, an autonomous vehicle was created by Ernst Dickmanns, and successfully tested on the autobahn. Teams around the world continued experimenting, and by the beginning of the 21st century, the U.S military was getting involved with autonomous vehicle technology.

By 2010, Google entered the race, announcing that its employees had spent a year developing and testing systems for self-driving cars. The goal was for commercial vehicles to be launched by 2020, and by 2015, Google cars had more than 1 million miles, however, a car accident in 2016 was the first in which the autonomous car was at fault.

Uber has also been hard at work, as has Tesla, Microsoft, and traditional car manufacturers such as Honda, Volkswagon, Toyota, and BMW. Unfortunately, in 2018, progress came to a halt when an Uber test vehicle killed a pedestrian. Uber suspended self-driving car testing, however the company resumed testing in 2018.

Driverless Cars in Pop Culture

From the Batmobile to Johnny Cab, driverless cars have long been a staple in pop culture. Tom Cruise played Frogger with driverless vehicles in Minority Report, and Steven King’s Christine featured a driverless (and murderous) car. 

For some great information about what we can expect to see for the future of driverless cars, check out some of these articles: 

One thing is for sure, driverless cars are guaranteed to make life easier, cheaper, and more convenient for all of us. However, just like any other groundbreaking technology, it must be tested extensively to prevent a repeat of Uber’s accident in 2018.