Environmentally friendly and fuel efficient vehicles are very much in vogue with major car manufacturers at the moment due to the increasing demand for such concepts which is being attributed to rising fuel prices. Indeed, 65% of motorists will purchase a more fuel friendly vehicle the next time they buy a new car according to research by MoneySupermarket.
However, adoption of full fledged self sustaining concept vehicles such as the all-electric Nissan Leaf have been held back due to two major problems. The first of which is the poor recharging station infrastructure; but the more fundamental issue is the length of time it takes charge up electric vehicles and the limited range between these charges. It appears that motorists simply aren’t prepared to accept this level of inconvenience in exchange for a cheaper annual fuel bill at the moment.
In their push to develop fuel friendly options, it appears that the major manufacturers may have missed a potentially major future development. This has opened the door for a certain internet search engine provider to potentially revolutionise the motoring world.
Google has been quietly developing the world’s first fully fledged autonomous vehicle. Fitted to a fleet of robotic Toyota Prius models, the new technology has so far logged 190,000 miles on a variety of different driving roads ranging from country lanes, to busy motorways and congested city centres.
The technology detects other road users, pedestrians and the road ahead by using sensors and lasers which are fitted to the roof of the vehicle. The device uses the lasers to produce a detailed 3D map of the area which is combined high resolution Google Maps to determine the best route while avoiding pedestrians and other road users. It will also respect road regulations such as speed limits and adhering to traffic light signals.
Professor Sebastian Thrun from Stanford University is one of the leaders of the project along with Google engineer Chris Urmson. Thrun stated that the main aim of the project is safety; with the Professor believing that this project could actually cut the number of road traffic accidents by half.
This could therefore ultimately impact on car insurance premiums, which have been becoming an increasing problem for motorists in recent years; rising by 40% in the past 12 months according to the AA. Google also hopes that the technology will reduce traffic congestion would could address the additional major issue facing the motoring world of fuel prices; helping to lower overall fuel consumption by reducing the amount of time spent in traffic jams and ensuring that a steady speed is maintained.
Meanwhile, some of the key advantages that Urmson envisages with the technology are the ability to do work or other chores while on the way to work, and the fact that the car can park itself. This will enable you to get dropped off at a restaurant or shops; allowing the car to go off and park. It also means that you can be picked back up upon requesting its return on a smart phone. Batman eat your heart out.
One flaw of the vehicle however which Urmson admits is its need to be more “aggressive”; with the vehicle perhaps yielding to other motorists more than an ordinary driver would be willing to do. However, on a road full of autonomous Google cars, this would of course not be an issue and it ultimately will not be the deal breaker that significantly detracts from the appeal of the design.
A more pressing issue which Google must also overcome before the technology is put into mass production is the legal and liability issues. However, the company is optimistic and Nevada has recently becoming the first U.S. state to legalise fully autonomous vehicles.
Thrun and Urmson also concede that reliability is one of the key issues which must be ensured before the technology goes into mass production. This was corroborated by Google Co-founder Sergey Brin who has his engineers the target of completing one million miles prior to launch. However, Brin added that he was “optimistic” and stated that they were “getting there”.
This all links into Google’s attempts to branch out away from being a mere search engine provider; with Google android phones and even Google maps now becoming increasingly prevalent figures in the technology market.