The future is here! 3 road ready self-driving cars


1st Jan 2015 Technology

The future is here! 3 road ready self-driving cars

Are you ready to give up the steering wheel? Self-driving cars are getting ready to hit the highway. But where are these cars, and what do they actually do? Here are some of the leading models.

Around the world laws are slowly being changed to allow self-driving vehicles on the roads. It may take a decade or more of research, trials and a lot longer for some customers to accept the concept, but slowly and surely we'll be sharing the roads with more self-driving vehicles.


1. Audi A7 and AQ5 SUV

Audi wanted to make a big impression at the spring Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, so took an A7 concept car and set it off from San Francisco and telling it to head to Vegas. Two days and 550 miles later, the car arrived without a scratch, navigating the highways of California and the boulevards of Las Vegas with equal aplomb. There was someone in the passenger seat at all times, as per the law, but they didn't have to intervene once.

There's also a special Audi AQ5 SUV, modified by automated driving systems specialist Delphi, currently being tested. Its most ambitious drive was from San Francisco to New York — over 3,500 miles — to demonstrate various systems including Delphi's Traffic Jam Assist, Automated Highway Pilot, Automated Urban Pilot, plus Automated Parking and Valet. It managed the journey with 99 per cent automated driving.


2. Google's self-driving cars

The advantages of a self-driving car are many fold; computers never get tired, their sensors are better than our eyes, they can make decisions faster and can drive more efficiently. Self-driving cars can also travel closer together, reducing congestion and allowing traffic to flow more freely. 

Google has a whole fleet of self-driving cars — mostly Lexus RX450 SUV models — that have been on the roads since 2009. The fleet have accumulated two million miles of driving  the cars have been involved in 13 accidents, none of them the fault of the automated systems. But, you might be wondering why an internet company like Google is spearheading such innovation? The company plans to launch the car systems between 2017 and 2020, to add to its massive search engine, Android smartphone technology and other business innovations. 

Going one step further, it is also developing a totally autonomous car with no steering wheel or pedals. Currently designed as a pod-like micro car, it could become a common sight on urban streets when laws allow, going to collect family members without the need for a parent, picking up a prescription, shopping or meal from a drive through, without you having to leave home. Surely, that's a future worth imagining?


3. Daimler Freightliner

Finally, moving on to the big stuff, Daimler is currently testing its Freightliner Inspiration, a concept self-driving truck for the haulage industry. On test in Nevada, it could one day help the freight industry to keep on trucking day and night, but there's a long way to go before we leave computers in charge of 20 tonnes of screaming metal on a public road.

However, don't worry too much about being replaced at the wheel yet. These vehicles don't drive in heavy rain or snow, which could confuse the sensors. They also need well-painted roads to drive on, so they can see the lane markers. It'll be some time before there's no need for a steering wheel.