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Self Driving Cars

One of the most popular ideas in science fiction has always been the self-driving car, or in the case of some stories, the self-flying spaceship. Now, in the year 2016, we're on the verge of this (awesome) idea becoming a reality.

Some of the world's biggest automobile and technology companies have spent a lot of money and resources to develop the software and hardware that make driverless cars possible. Google, for example, has been working on the problem since before 2009 and their self-driving cars have driven hundreds of millions of miles already! However, the history of autonomous cars didn't start with them.

 

From the moment the first car was invented, people have been thinking up ways to make the machines drive themselves. It's easy to see why. Driving can be a real pain in the butt, especially if you have to do it for hours every day, like many working adults. Self-driving cars would free up that time to be spent however you’d like. You could play Pokémon GO, instead of having to watch the road. Think of all the Pokémon you'd catch!

 

Some of the first attempts to create a driverless car were made way back in the early 1900’s, when scientists used radio waves to remote-control a car for the first time, or installed electrical wiring or magnets in the road to direct the vehicles. The problem with these early efforts is that the cars were only driverless, not autonomous. Cars couldn't be truly autonomous--able to drive themselves--without being able to also ‘think’ for themselves. That's where computers come in.

 

With the invention of computers in the 80’s, scientists were able to create software that used logic to solve problems, like our brains do. (Today's calculators are an example of what early computers were like.) Software like this was and is the most important part of self-driving cars, just like our brains are the most important part of our ability to walk around without crashing into things. When you are riding in a car, and you see the road coming towards you, your brain does a lot of math to decide if what you're seeing is an upcoming turn, a pedestrian, or a brick wall. It compares the sizes, colors, and speeds of objects, to determine what something is, how big it is, and where it's moving in relation to you. The math is pretty complicated, and it's taken scientists decades to develop the software that can do all of it.

 

So, we have the technology. Self-driving cars have driven hundreds of millions of miles for years. But, you might be wondering why we don't have them yet, outside of scientific experiments and stories. It turns out there's a lot more to it than just the science. People still have many important questions about autonomous cars and how they could affect the world. If a driverless car hits a car being driven by a person, how do we determine who pays for the damage? Do self-driving cars need to protect the driver at all costs, or should they try to protect people outside the vehicle too? Those are just 2 of the questions that we, politicians, and scientists, need to answer before autonomous cars can become standard. We have a lot of work to do, but the future is coming soon, and it won't be long before driving is a thing of the past.

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