You probably didn't think, when watching the Knight Rider TV series back in the eighties, that KITT was anything other than pure science fiction. For the uninitiated, KITT was Knight Rider's star turn, a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am that could talk and drive all by itself.
Cars still can't speak, not intelligently at least, but they can certainly drive themselves. In fact, driverless cars are being seen more regularly in motor shows, at test tracks and sometimes even on public roads.
BMW, Nissan, Volvo and plenty of other car manufacturers already have self-driving prototypes in the field. But it's not just car manufacturers that are getting in on the action – Google has already come on leaps and bounds with its autonomous 'Google car', while Apple has also expressed a serious interest in self-driving tech.
The Google driverless car, as the name would suggest, is a project launched by the technology giant to develop technology for autonomous cars. In fact, Google has been trying bring the idea of an autonomous car to the public's attention for years. It's hit a few obstacles along the way; having to navigate around state and robotic car laws. But as of today, Nevada, Florida, California and Michigan all permit the testing of autonomous cars on public roads. Google's latest project is the 'Robo-Taxi', another driverless vehicle from Google.
The Navia driverless car is actually the world's first commercially available driverless car, and surprisingly, it doesn't come from a prestigious, well known manufacturer. In fact, it's the product of a small tech company called Induct Technology. It's an electric car (or shuttle, for want of a better word) that draws power from induction loops underneath the car and embedded in a road's surface. For now, it can't be used on public roads due to legal restrictions, but definitely keep an eye out.
BMW has recently developed a fully autonomous 2 Series and 6 Series Gran Coupe, joining the race towards driverless car technology. BMW claims its prototypes will make a "significant contribution to bringing the vision of accident-free mobility another step closer to reality." The driverless cars have the ability to cruise along the motorway and city streets without any driver input. By 2020, BMW hopes to have laid the technical foundations for mass-produced motorway-based autonomous vehicles - legislation permitting, of course.
Like BMW, Nissan has also set 2020 as the benchmark for achieving glory in the form of a commercially viable self-driving autonomous car. As a manufacturer, it's definitely got what it takes to make this happen; the Nissan Leaf, after all, is the best-selling electric car so far. Nissan calls this technology Autonomous Drive.
Volvo has even started experimenting with the idea of a driverless truck. The cost of shifting goods could be dramatically reduced, but the prospect of a large vehicle such as a truck being driverless is a little daunting. Volvo has also recently announced a new range of technologies that will be available on the new XC90 - all with an autonomous theme. These range from pedestrian detection in the dark through to a fully automated parking system.
Toyota's autonomous tech will be available on production cars as early as 2015. Lane Trace Control will use a forward-facing camera behind the rear view mirror to trace the lane markings on a road. The Lexus IS test car was actually able to automatically steer, hands-free, round a 50 meter radius curve at speeds of up to 40mph. With Co-operative Adaptive Cruise control, on the other hand, cars communicate with one another using a radio frequency to maintain a safe distance between leading and following vehicles.
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