A car designed for the urban jungle: the self-driving car

A new face in the city: the self-driving car

5 years ago a new type of connected car was conceived by Google in its secretive Google X division., a car that would change the way we see and think about communication. The self-driving car would connect vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to the road, and it would have a tremendous impact on the city’s landscape. What defines this car is that it would need no driver, it would do the driving all by itself.

One month ago Google promoted its robot cars in Mountain View, California, offering people the possibility to assist to 30-minute rides in the city, in an attempt to show off the cars’ ability to navigate automatically down the city roads, and to do this safely, without causing any disturbance or injuries, even on streets packed with cyclists, pedestrians and traffic signs.

Their goal was to make people no longer fear the new type of car, but come to embrace it. When it comes down to self-driving cars, the problem does not center on developing the technology, but it spreads out to consumers’ acceptance.

What’s the challenge?

In an environment as stirring with life and full of obstacles of all sorts as the urban jungle is, the connected car faces a great challenge: finding its way through the city maze, without endangering anyone. This is why it has to be ensured that self-driving cars are secure. By doing this people would overcome their fears and adopt the innovation.

While highway driving has already been experienced by Google’s driverless cars and most of the problems seem to have been solved, driving in a city is something entirely different.

They need to take into account speed and spacing, obstacles such as driving signs, traffic lights, pedestrians, construction zones. This seems to be highly predictable, but a number of unforeseen situations can occur. There are wide speed variations, pedestrians and bikers that have to be avoided, sinuous roads to swerve on, lane changes, shifts within the same lane, drivers communicating with each other by gestures or eye contact. This is why the car needs to adapt and have control in all situations.

In order for the technology to develop properly, observers are placed in every car and their examination of the car’s behavior is relayed to software developers, who improve the code and make the car behave better in known situations, or give the car new commands for new situations. In this way, the self-driving car is increasingly becoming more adapted to the urban jungle.

Why not build a city for testing the robot car?

If you want to see how a robot car is going to behave in a city, why not build a city especially for this?! This is exactly what the University of Michigan put in practice.The University of Michigan, along with the local government and major automakers, is building a model town to test a system of self-driving “connected” cars.

In this computer controlled environment, the technology will have to face all the obstacles encountered in the city. The project takes the form of a simulation and it will be controlled by software developers, who will design dangerous and troublesome situations, such as traffic jams and possible collisions. In this fashion the program will anticipate problems engineers need to solve.

So far, Ford, General Motors and Toyota have signed in. Though the robot cars involved in the project are not Google’s self-driving cars, much of the process is automated. The urban environment can be tested by automated cars and it also allows for developing vehicle to vehicle communication, and vehicle to world communication. “In the future, your car will talk to other cars, to traffic lights, and to other roadside devices. And the roadway will talk back, too”. “Your Connected Vehicle will find out about such things as traffic tie-ups, icy roads, disabled vehicles, and lane closures.”

Perfecting the self-driving car could mean preserving lives, cutting pollution and ensuring safety. Even if this technology is still in the development stage, when people will start adopting it, it will change the way we view and connect to our daily urban jungle.

How do you feel about the self-driving car? Leave a comment below.

Philipp Kandal