When Will You Have a Car That Drives Itself?

The self-driving car has been a touchstone of futurism for a long time. Is it about to become reality?

The self-driving car has been a touchstone of futurism for a long time. Is it about to become reality?

Imagine: You're driving down the highway while drinking coffee and reading the newspaper—but you're not putting any of your fellow drivers in danger. Instead, you're letting the car itself take the wheel as it guides you safely down the road, all the while saving fuel. It's not a pipe dream—it's the vision of vehicle manufacturers working on the next generation of autonomous cars.

Autonomous vehicles, or vehicles that drive themselves, have actually been around for decades. The EUREKA Prometheus Project, launched in 1987 by Daimler-Benz AG, exhausted nearly $1 billion building robotic cars. In 1994, the project successfully sent two robot vehicles more than 600 miles on a Paris highway in standard traffic conditions (with drivers in each vehicle in case of emergency, natch).

Eureka ran out of funding, but autonomous car research has been going on continuously since then, albeit under the radar. And the autonomous vehicle craze never really caught on until recently. In the past months, we've seen companies like GM, Volvo, and even Google getting serious about autonomous vehicle research projects.

Perhaps the most well-known autonomous vehicle project of late is GM's EN-V, a pod-like autonomous car that features vehicle-to-vehicle communications, distance-sensing, and GPS. According to GM, the all-electric, lithium-ion battery powered vehicle can travel 25 miles on a charge. The vehicle could be on roads as soon as 2015.

Google's foray into autonomous vehicles was revealed last October when the company announced that its fleet of self-driving Toyota Priuses has been in testing for years—and they have already logged 140,000 miles driving across California with help from cameras, lasers, and radar. The reasoning behind the project, according to Google, is that "self-driving cars will transform car sharing, significantly reducing car usage, as well as help create the new 'highway trains of tomorrow.'"

We're not sure how self-driving vehicles could reduce car usage, but they certainly have the potential to revolutionize car sharing. Consider that a new service in San Francisco, dubbed Spride Share, allows members to rent out their vehicles, a la Zipcar, to strangers. If members had self-driving vehicle, they could be assured that renters wouldn't get into fender-benders. In other words, members might be more comfortable renting out their vehicles, and similar car-sharing services could grow dramatically as a result.

And as for those "highway trains of tomorrow?" Look no further than Volvo, which this week announced that it successfully completed testing of vehicle platooning technology at the Volvo Proving Ground near Gothenberg, Sweden. Vehicle platoons consist of a lead vehicle with a driver and several autonomous "slave" vehicles trailing close behind. The slave vehicles keep track of speed, distance, and direction, and can leave the road train at any time.

The technology is perfect for relieving drivers of stress while stuck in traffic jams—and Volvo claims that it cuts down on fuel consumption by up to 20 percent. This is because vehicle platooning cuts down on the drag of each vehicle. At the same time, platooning increases the amount of cars that can safely fit on a highway (cars maintain a close but safe distance), decreasing traffic and cutting down on fuel wasted by constantly switching between the brake and gas pedal.

Will autonomous vehicle technology allow us to move more quickly off oil and onto cleaner sources of energy? No, but it can provide us with safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles in the interim. And if companies like GM get their way, the electric vehicles of the future may even integrate autonomous driving capabilities, to boot.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less