Could computers ever drive cars without us?

In the eighties TV series Knightrider, Michael Hasselhoff’s best mate was his talking car, KITT, but will our cars ever really drive themselves? Up to now, computers have been added to cars to improve both the experience of the driver and road safety. However, as the processing power of computers increases, they will be able to take a more active role in driving.

Smart steering wheel

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth have developed a smart steering wheel that monitors the road conditions and speed in order to make changes to the braking and suspension of the car. There are also smart braking systems that know from the movement of your feet whether you are about to make an emergency stop and therefore can react much faster than normal. And speeding could become a thing of the past when speed restrictions are enforced by wireless transmission direct to the engine of your car.

Computer driven cars

But would you be happy to travel in a computer driven car? As computers take over more and more of the tasks involved in driving, drivers could become less aware of their surroundings making it more difficult for them to retake control in an emergency. Also, if a computer driven car is in an accident, who takes the blame?

Even if it still sounds like science fiction, in 2005 a driverless car called Stanley won $2m after autonomously completing a gruelling 131 mile course through the Mojave desert in Nevada. But now Stanley’s developers at Stanford University are setting themselves up with an even bigger challenge, the DARPA Urban Challenge.

Junior, who is Stanley’s successor, will have to negotiate city streets and obey traffic laws as well as avoiding obstacles and other traffic. But the large amount of kit needed to guide Junior, including eight laser systems, a GPS accurate to 30cm and numerous custom-built software applications, means that we won’t be seeing computer-driven cars in the high street any time soon.

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