We’ve all seen stories about Google’s driverless car. It won’t be a driverless car when it really starts getting used. It will be a car that drivers can put on autopilot while they take a nap, read a book, type on the computer or do makeup on the way to work along with eating a bowl of Cheerios.
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It’s not really any different from commercial airplanes, which are all run on autopilot from takeoff to landing, except that Korean airline that whacked the seawall at San Francisco International Airport.
The person in the driver’s seat of a Google car will have to take over to make a pit stop, gas stop, lunch stop, etc.
We won’t make any predictions about how soon we’ll be able to Google on down the road. Technology has changed fast. Some of our readers remember rotary dial phones and party lines, and rabbit-ear antennas with tinfoil to improve the signal from the local broadcast stations.
In this industry, in less than a generation, we switched from mechanical typewriters, hot lead and Linotype machines to computers without even the intermediate step of electric typewriters. Now the entire newspaper is digitally transmitted to our regional printing plant.
That’s old hat. The revolution is on its way to automobiles and light pickup trucks. Before the Googlemobile arrives in showroom floors, automotive makers will be implementing an intermediate step. Two of those are General Motors and BMW. They are both picking up technology created by Mobileye, headquartered in the Netherlands and with operations in Israel. Five asset managers, including one Chinese company, raised $400 million for Mobileye recently, boosting the company’s value to $1.5 billion.
What Mobileye does is use cameras to help drivers see other cars, such as on the driver’s side’s blind spot. It sees pedestrians and other obstacles, including deer. It will alert the driver and automatically brake the car. That’s already in some models by those two manufacturers now. By 2013, Mobileye plans to make cars semi-autonomous so they can read traffic and street signs and maintain the right distance between cars, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A report from the Associated Press notes that technology already available in some cars will become cheaper and more widespread, such as engines that turn off when stopped at a light, but restart imperceptibly when the foot is removed from the brake. Radar that keeps a driver from drifting out of his or her lane will also become more widespread.
Backup cameras are about to become universal by 2015 — on vehicles as a safety requirement of the government. But cameras are becoming so small and inexpensive that they will be placed on the sides and front of vehicles. Honda has side cameras that come on when the turn signal is activated.
The price of cameras and radar has been coming down at an exponential rate. Think about the great quality of photography available in cell phones now. Collision warnings with automatic braking will reduce accidents in stop-and-go traffic on I-80.
In the late 1940s the Tucker automobile had a center headlight that turned as the car turned. Now, with LED lighting, automakers are making adaptive headlights that swivel in the direction the car is going so drivers can see around corners as they turn.
The revolution that started with the iPhone is shifting to the automobile and we’ll all be better off for it.