There has been a lot of talk about cars that drive themselves in the media recently and for good reason. They are coming.
Much of the conversation, rightly, has surrounded internet and technology giant Google who are well ahead of traditional automakers in their quest to build driver-less cars.
Over the Christmas break, there have been a couple of developing stories that indicate that self driving car technology might be much closer to reality than many experts are expecting.
With its latest software update, electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla included advanced programming which allows existing vehicles to drive themselves with minimal input from the human behind the wheel. So advanced is this technology that a team of cross country drivers, including our somewhat infamous friend Alex Roy, rode along in a Tesla Model S recently as it set a new record travelling from Los Angeles to New York City. The team covered the reverse of the famed Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Run in 57 hours and 48 minutes, including charging stops. Using the Tesla’s Autopilot settings, the car drove for 96 per cent of the trip. Essentially, the only time human intervention was needed was navigating New York traffic.
In a December 21 interview with Fortune, Tesla founder Elon Musk that building a completely autonomous vehicle that works in any condition, on any road, would be “easy-ish” and stated that a fully automated Tesla would be completed within the next two years. That is a bold statement when you consider that just over a year ago, Musk said the technology was five to six years away.
At the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford had some of its autonomous driving research projects on display, which simply looked childish. A regular production car had some funny looking spinning sensor things mounted on it which looked like some sort of rejects from a sci-fi flick. Clearly they were behind the technology curve at that point, which meant that something had to be done to get in front.
A report in Automotive News on December 21 indicates that Ford and Google are in talks for the auto manufacturer to build the cars that the technology company has developed. It would be the best of both worlds for both companies. It is also not too far fetched a concept, when you consider that Google’s self driving car project is being led by CEO John Krafcik, who once worked in Ford’s engineering department. Another key player is former Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who currently sits on Google’s board of directors.
The whole concept of cars that drive themselves is so new that it requires a different thought process than what has driven the automotive industry historically. It requires people like Musk, who not only think outside the box, but create teams of minds who also don’t think like automotive engineers. While Tesla has chosen to create their own products from top to bottom, it makes more sense for Google to partner with a major OEM to bring their already living vision to production.
The future of self driving cars is getting closer almost by the week. The only real question is who will win the race to be first to production?