Self-driving cars are not quite yet the reality that we have been promised in hopeful technology exposes and television programs. However, the technology that will make them possible is already on our roads. Nowadays, cars are fast ditching the gas engines and bringing on board all sorts of new “smart” technology in order to help drivers navigate the road better (or to help the cars themselves do that automatically).
Moreover, it is not just the cars themselves that are changing. Valtir, a company specializing in highway safety technology and equipment, predict that, with the massively increased number of drivers soon to be on our roads, the roads themselves will have to change. So too, they say, will the safety infrastructure that can keep the users of those roads safe.
Part of that safety technology is already being integrated into the vehicles on our roads. Much of that development involves the ability of vehicles to “read the road”, to send alerts to the driver, or even to initiate automatic safety processes.
This technology is known as Machine Vision, and it is in action whenever your car sends you an alert that you are about to drift out of your lane, or wherever the alarm goes off as you reverse into a parking spot and nearly hit something. Nevertheless, this technology is set to eventually be part and parcel of the self-driving cars which many expect to be, one day, a universal reality.
Cars and Smart Technology
One of the best ways to get a solid sense of how self-driving cars will “see” the road is to look at how this technology is manifesting right now. Here follows a couple of examples of this onboard technology that will bring motoring into the now:
Lane Departure Warning
Lane departure warning (or LDW) systems are designed to immediately correct one of the most fatal highway mistakes that a motorist can make. Drifting out of your lane through negligence can lead to severe crashes. Off the highways, where there are no highway crash cushions and barriers to separate oncoming traffic, oncoming collisions (the worst kind) become possible and, in some cases, even likely.
Collision Avoidance Technologies
Sometimes, you do not see the vehicle or object that you are about to crash into. The result is, all too often, tragedy. However, many modern vehicles are equipped with technology that allows obstacles to be detected and brakes applied in the nick of time. This will almost certainly become a feature of self-driving cars.
How Vehicles Can See the Road
Self-driving cars really will see the road. The technology that allows them to navigate the external space takes the form of a series of mounted cameras connected to onboard driving safety systems that ultimately feed the data to a computer controlling the movement of the car. This machine vision involves a lot of extraordinarily complex algorithms to analyze and interpret the data in enough complexity to control the car. As you might have noticed, something like this technology is already present on board many of today’s vehicles. Nonetheless, true machine vision-guided self-driving cars require another input of data.
This is data about the road that is not immediately visible, and it includes planned routes, traffic data, and information about sudden accidents or roadworks. This information does not come from cameras, but it must be integrated with the machine vision technology on board self-driving cars.
With the combination of these two technologies (already highly developed and in use everywhere on roads) self-driving cars will fast becoming a reality, soon to be simple part of modern life.