Gizmos & Gadgets: The Amazing Autonomous Car

No doubt by now you have heard about the various projects by a handful of tech companies all grouped under names like “the driverless car”, “self-driving car” and/or “the autonomous car”.  While the thought of a vehicle speeding along our nation’s highways and by-ways without a human driver seem like a plot straight from the Jetsons, the truth is that we are at the beginning of a new reality.   Google has been at the forefront of this new adventure – with a fleet of Lexus vehicles specially modified to drive themselves – across our nation’s highways and by-ways.  But don’t be alarmed, there was (as is still required), a real person in the driver’s seat at all times to take over should the automated controls malfunctioned or failed.

While Google’s fleet has actually been in 14 accidents since the dawn of the project in 2011, it is important to note that ALL of the accidents have involved human drivers running into the vehicles – not the other way around. Wow.  Here are a few things you might not know about the autonomous car movement:

Four states – Florida, Nevada, Michigan and California already have laws on the books regarding the autonomous car.  Nevada in fact already has developed special license plates for such vehicles.

The Federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued guidelines regarding the autonomous car back in 2013.  These guidelines were designed to help the states with regulations regarding autonomous vehicles in their states.

A major heavy truck manufacturer unveiled a semi-autonomous truck in Nevada earlier this year.  While it was a functioning prototype and currently street-legal for Nevada roadways, the manufacturer does not have immediate plans to launch it for sale.

Apple has also quietly joined the autonomous car fray – hiring Chrysler’s former VP of Quality earlier this year and rumored to be developing its own fully autonomous, fully electric vehicle that would be slated to bow in 2020.

Volvo has announced that by the year 2020, no people will die in their cars due to accidents.  Nissan, Infiniti, Ford, General Motors and a host of other automotive manufacturers plan additional safety technologies (which includes limited vehicle autonomy) starting in 2016.

On the NHTSA’s five-level scale of vehicle autonomy – (with Level Zero being fully manual and Level Four being fully autonomous) – both the Google’s autonomous fleet and the recent heavy truck in Nevada would meet the Level Three threshold.  Limited Self-Driving Automation (Level 3) is defined as: Vehicles at this level of automation that enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions and in those conditions to rely heavily on the vehicle to monitor for changes in those conditions requiring transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

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