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Entries in self-driving car (3)

Wednesday
May092012

A License to Self-drive: Google's Autonomous Cars Get Plates

Since 2011, Nevada has been the only state to allow autonomous vehicles to cruise its roads. And now, the first license plate for a self-driving car has been issued—to Google, of course.

The new, futuristic plate identifies the car as a self-driving vehicle, helping other drivers and law enforcement officials to distinguish it. The licensing process took a while; Google had to first prove to the state of Nevada that its car is safe and that the company has measures in place for insurance, training, accident reporting, etc.

Although Google is the first company to receive a plate, that might not last long. Other car manufacturers may soon flock to the state to take advantage of its laws and wide open spaces and develop their own self-driving vehicles. According to the DMV, "just about every manufacturer in Detroit" is interested, though some are closer to the goal than others.

Chinese and European companies are looking into autonomous cars too. Germany's Continental Automotive group has driven thousands of miles in their self-driving car to qualify for a license in Nevada.

It will be interesting to see where this Nevada trend takes us in the coming years. What do you think? Would you ride in a self-driving car?

Friday
Feb172012

Nevada Okays Regulations, Testing for Driverless Cars

Nevada just took a big step toward the future: It’s the first state to approve regulations that pave the way for companies to test driverless cars on state roads.

Down the road, this could lead to driverless taxicabs or cars that transport people who can’t drive due to a medical condition.

Although the cars aren’t ready to go to market yet, this is a chance for companies like Toyota to do real-world testing on their driverless concept cars. Already, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval took a test ride in a self-driving Toyota Prius in July. The car, which is being developed by Google, uses radar, sensors and computers to drive itself. Don’t worry, though: the human driver can override the autopilot function at any time.

The regulations generally follow traffic laws, with one obvious exception: A law passed by legislators last year to ban texting while driving included a specific exemption for operators of self-driving cars on autopilot.

What about drinking and driving, you ask? Sorry, it still applies, even to drunk "drivers" of self-driving cars.

Tuesday
Jan182011

Amazing New Car Enables the Blind to Drive

This month, Daytona International Speedway isn't just about racing. A unique car that enables blind people to drive will be unveiled there Jan. 29. 

The car, a modified Ford Escape Hybrid, features special sensors, computers and interfaces that help it gain an unprecedented understanding of its road environment -- and even enable the driver to make his or her own decisions. It was designed by engineers and students at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, College of Engineering in Blacksburg, Va.

How does it work? According to the Vancouver Sun, the first step is the sensors, which include lasers and cameras. 

"The laser shoots around, scans the environment and makes a map around the vehicle," said Dr. Dennis Hong, an associate professor in the mechanical engineering department. "The camera system looks all around the vehicle by using some very sophisticated computer vision algorithms to identify and classify objects so that the vehicle knows ... a tree is over there, a rock is over here."

The sensor information enables the car's computer to create a virtual map of the environment. It then interfaces with the driver when necessary: 

Special driving gloves, for example, vibrate across each knuckle to let the vehicle's operator know how sharply to turn, while speed strips, which vibrate along the driver's legs and back, indicate how much to accelerate, says Anil Lewis, director of strategic communications with the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, Md.

One interface, for example, is the AirPix, a small tablet-like device with holes on it. Compressed air comes out from these holes and forms an image of what is around the vehicle.

"You put your hand over it and feel these are the roads. That's a tree over there; there is a moving vehicle to my right," says Hong. "The computer provides information about the vehicle so that it is you, the driver, who makes active decisions," he adds. "That is the concept."