They go by lots of different names; autonomous, self-driving, driverless or robotic, but whatever you call them, cars that do not need a human driver are looking more and more likely to appear on a road near you in the not too distant future!
Although this sounds like the stuff of science-fiction movies, the first attempts at inventing an autonomous vehicle can be traced back to the 1920s. In 1939 designer Norman Bel Geddes exhibited his idea of a futuristic radio-controlled car at the New York World Fair and, in recent years, the race to get driverless vehicles on the road has picked up pace with many major car manufacturers and software companies such as Google, investing in the technology that could make this a reality. Not only can these prototypes sense what is around them using cameras and laser technology, they have the capability to communicate with other autonomous vehicles as well.
Of course, there has to be rigorous testing before any vehicle is allowed on the road. The University of Michigan has created the unique 32 acres ‘Mcity’ specifically to test autonomous vehicles. Opened in July 2015, it includes approximately five lane-miles of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks (pavements), benches, simulated buildings, streetlights and obstacles such as construction barriers. See the test track here
What problems could driverless cars solve?
Sadly, about 1.2 million people are killed on the world’s roads every year and it is estimated that 93% of these deaths are due to mistakes made by human drivers.
Discuss and survey
Could driverless cars be safer? How? What could the benefits be for people with disabilities?
Watch this video to see a person who is blind take their first drive behind the wheel.
Could there be any benefits to the environment? Survey your community on their thoughts about driverless cars. What do people think about this possible future? Share the survey data with us here at Junior Inventors!