By Rick Montgomery
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -To call Tim Sylvester a road builder misses the point. The streets he intends to build are embedded with electronic sensors that may keep cars of the future from speeding, veering and crashing.
A few blocks from Sylvester’s Integrated Roadways office in Kansas City, doctoral candidate Amol Khedkar is toiling on his own prototype for a software system that would let cars talk to one other, synchronizing their own movements. The vehicles could automatically change lanes and make turns without humans mucking things up.
Khedkar had better put the pedal to the metal. He’s three years into his dissertation project – and in just that time, the worldwide race to develop so-called driverless vehicles has reached breakneck speeds.
Much of the technology already is on the streets. Newer, higher-end automobiles can parallel-park themselves, creep through traffic jams on their own, alert drivers to blind side intruders, keep wheels from rolling onto centerlines and spot deer in the road before headlights can.
Google and other innovators say they may be just five years away from having all the tools and knowhow to market what researchers call “a fully autonomous vehicle” – where steering, braking and turns can be safely performed without manning the controls.
The bandied-about term “driverless” doesn’t mean there’s nobody at the wheel, though some scenarios project that day will come. Driverless means nobody needs to be there because internal and external sensors, plus satellite magic, allow the vehicle to drive itself.
The question has sped beyond whether or not technology will ever let motorists read a magazine en route to work – which techies say is a reality nearer than you think.
Rather, society has begun to ask: Do we really want this?1 2 3 4 next >>