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The past, present, and future of driverless cars – what you should know

The past, present, and future of driverless cars – what you should know
December 20, 2018 Tom Clark

Once a technological fantasy, autonomous cars are now a concrete reality. It paves the way for a future where computers will be overtaking the driving seat, and we might not need a steering wheel anymore. Although these cars are not commercially available on a large scale as yet, they are rolling in on roads. It is estimated that over 10,000 autonomous vehicles will hit the roads by 2021. Even though they have existed for several years now, there are some ethical and technological obstacles that manufacturers must tackle.

If you want a clear picture of this technology, the following points talk about its initiation, the current perceptions, and anticipations for the future:

The past

You may be surprised to learn that researchers have been exploring the possibility of driverless cars for over 45 years. In 1939, General Motors showcased their radio-controlled cars in the famous New York Fair, Futurama. It was the first time people saw driverless cars. Then in 1956, General Motor came up with another model by the name, Firebird II – the concept of which was to reveal how turning on an autopilot system can give the driver a time to relax.

An article published in the July 1969 issue of IEEE Spectrum outlines the technical research of the very first autonomous vehicle. The leading engineers Robert E. Fenton and Karl W. Olson hypothesized that in future, the automated vehicles would rely on “smart infrastructure.” Later, there were countless experiments with driverless cars, but they never went public until the 1980s Knight Rider TV show.  

After all these experiments with automotive vehicles, the biggest breakthrough for the industry came up in the 1980s with the increasing availability of small computer parts. It led to the Jaguar Cars inventing a vehicle with auto-pilot mode that allowed for cruise control, rumble strip warning, collision warning, and automatic lane following. This model ran for 17, 000 miles autonomously on the public highways in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. So far, this was the most advanced autonomous public vehicle and was to evolve even further.

The present

The evolution of these cars went a bit slow until recent years when some of the tech-genies suddenly started to show interest in them. Google, for instance, is operating on fully-autonomous vehicles. It launched a youtube advert in 2014 that showed people experiencing the driverless cars.

Tesla that is a renowned vehicle manufacturer is also ready to give autonomous vehicles a fair shake. They have upgraded their flagship vehicle Tesla Model S and incorporated in it the ability to drive on a highway for about 70 miles per hour. Although it is not fully automated as yet, the CEO of the Company Elon Musk claims that complete automation is coming in within three years.

As far as the current tech system of these vehicles is concerned, it is quite mature. It integrates with various kinds of infrastructure and technology to function properly. All systems must work with the surrounding environment. The required technological advancements for these cars include:

  • Long-range radar
  • LIDAR (laser scan)
  • Cameras
  • Short/medium-range radar
  • Ultrasound

Each of the technology is used in different ways depending on the requirements of the specific vehicle. Currently, there are various levels of automation installed with each vehicle. There are different applications for automation, and the level of integration is expected to rise with the of technology.

The future

Many of the major automobile manufacturers are focusing on driverless cars. Companies like Ford, BMW, Nissan, General Motors and Toyota are claiming that they will mass-produce such cars by 2020.

Toyota is preparing to launch a fully automated vehicle in 2020, right before the mega-event of the Olympic Games in Japan. Similarly, Ford and Audi have also announced the next generation of their vehicles to be self-driven models.

Furthermore, supporters of driverless cars believe that they will increase safety on roadways. That is good news for us all. According to the National Highway Traffic Security Administration, 94 percent of car crashes occur from human error. If the smart cars take over, the chances are that these rates will fall. Experts believe that such cars will be able to communicate with others running around and a collaborative technology will lead towards smooth, care-free drive for all passengers.

Scott Shogan, who is an engineer with Parsons Brinckerhoff and specializes in automated vehicle initiatives in the United States. States: “there is enormous potential to improve safety. A big, big piece of this is moving toward zero car deaths.”

Not only the normal commuters can reap the benefits, but it enhances convenience and mobility for vulnerable sections of the society. The young children, elderly and disabled will have greater access to their desirable services through automatic drop-off and pick-up. Also, the automated vehicles can take up the pressure of weather and traffic, handling it more effectively. As for the pricing, some experts hold a view that it will add up only $10, 000 to the actual purchase price of the car to make it driverless.


Conclusively, it is apt to state that driverless cars hold lucrative potentials. It has been around 50 years to the research of this technology and apparently, it has become unstoppable. There is remarkable progress in the quest to decrease the rate of accidents and combat human errors by the use of automated vehicles. People are now stepping away from the notion we want any car, and instead, they are looking out for highly technical models that are free of all contemporary issues. We are sure that automotive manufacturers shall continue to push forth with the technologies of driverless cars.

We are surely moving into a future that promises exceptional potentials for driverless cars!


Author Bio

Audrey Throne is a mother of a 3-year old and a professional blogger by choice. Throne is passionate about lifestyle, business, automotive, technology and management and blogs frequently on these topics.

Find her on Twitter: @audrey_throne.