self driving robot cars will navigate the streets sooner than expectedimage © volvo




it seems a cliche science-fiction topic, a futuristic vision of a world where human judgment and skills are no longer necessary for driving because fully autonomous automobiles will transport us on their own. it’s a debate that has been around for some time, as experts and civilians question putting our faith in technology that moves at high velocities within a network of other similarly-functioning machines while they carry our most precious cargo – ourselves. the days of speculation, however, are becoming a tangible feat as companies all over the globe are beginning to take the idea from concept to reality. 


video © royal wakefield




google, not widely known for their research in the automotive industry, has come out with the prototype for a self-driving car that is now street legal, as the state of california has allowed the testing of these vehicles on public roads, amongst human traffic. google co-founder sergey brin states that the technology should be available to the public within the next few years.  not only that, but he goes on to explain that it will be possible for the car to drop the passenger at a destination and then park itself. the contraption mounted on the roof of the car holds the key to make this technology possible. this LIDAR system is designed to use doppler radar together with advanced optical sensors and GPGPU processing to collect situational data and pass it through evolving self-learning algorithms that identify hazards. as testing is now legal in small pockets of the country, the cars have refined a rather intelligent knowledge base that allows them to successfully navigate roadways. this opens up a new world for the handicapped or disabled, who will now have no limits as to when and where they can go.

self driving robot cars will navigate the streets sooner than expectedthe self-driven toyota hybrid with google’s LIDAR mountimage © simon bisson




google CEO larry page explains:

‘we want to do things that will motivate the most amazing people in the world to want to work on them. you look at self-driving cars. you know a lot of people die, and there’s a lot of wasted labor. the better transportation you have, the more choice in jobs. and that’s social good. that’s probably an economic good. i like it when we’re picking problems like that: big things where technology can have a really big impact. and we’re pretty sure we can do it. and whatever the technology investment we need to do that, it’s not going to be that huge compared to the payoff.’

self driving robot cars will navigate the streets sooner than expectedthe world as seen to the LIDAR technologyimage © simon bisson



volvo has also jumped on-board, hoping to release the world’s first publicly available self-driven cars by 2014 with the capability of cruising speeds of up to 31 mph. using their patented sartre technology and wireless internet, the automobiles will be able to communicate with each other and are only the first step towards the greater goal of reaching an accident-free world by 2020. they have also developed prototypes capable of higher speeds but will not disclose their availability at this time.


explaining and demonstrating the sartre technologyvideo © volvo


self driving robot cars will navigate the streets sooner than expectedvolvo’s self-driven carimage © volvo


self driving robot cars will navigate the streets sooner than expectedvolvo’s diagram illustrating the benefits of the new technologyimage © volvo




this new era of transportation will surely change our relationship with our cars and with our environments on a greater infrastructural level. there is already a gradual move towards shared transport, but if vehicles are able to drive themselves it could possibly eradicate the individual’s need for a personal privately-owned car. it would be as easy as sending a request via telephone, a car would shortly come pick you up at any location and then take to to any destination, drop you off and head back to a storage warehouse or to the next requested call. this could essentially already work with public transport that would run around the clock without the need for a human driver. the new technology plans to eradicate human error in driving, expected to eliminate accidents and injuries, greatly reduce traffic congestion, grant those with special needs more autonomy, and create a more efficient infrastructure. the possibilities, both predictable and unforeseen, are countless, what is for certain is that this soon-to-be technology will no doubt have a profound effect on our individual lives and society, not to mention the questions it will raise in the philosophical realm as it poses a new dimension to how we define our human capabilities and quality of life.