Did you know there is a driverless vehicle cruising the streets of Berlin?
Yes, believe it or not. I am not quite sure what I think of this. I am still suffering from the near loss of the manual transmission. I am not sure I am ready to give up driving to a computer.
All summer a group of researchers from the city of Berlin’s Free University have been testing the vehicle around the German capital.
The vehicle is a VW Passat with a few modifications. The current cost of the vehicle is nearly $600,000.
You can spend that much on a Ferrari supercar and it won’t drive you around.
As you can imagine, that $600,000 price tag is the result of some fancy electronics. The technology is a combination of computers, electronics, a precision satellite navigation system in the trunk, a front facing camera and laser scanning system all around the outside of the vehicle.
The vehicle can recognize other cars on the road, trees, buildings, and pedestrians up to 70 metres around it. It can see traffic lights and recognize red and green and react accordingly.
In fact it supposedly reacts quicker than a human being. Maybe it can handle texting while driving given that faster reaction time.
The key to the smooth operation of this vehicle is fancy artificial intelligence software.
The ideal use of a vehicle of this sort would be car sharing.
Your smartphone could call up a car to pick you up and take you to your destination and then move on to the next request.
Taxi drivers will be shaking in their boots.
Some scientists suggest a decade from now vehicles like this will be available to consumers.
The more conservative types suggest 30 to 40 years.
Those of us who have yet to possess the Jetsons vehicle of choice might not even go along with the conservative estimates.
I can see a benefit here for those of us who still like to drive our own vehicles.
If the people who are not interested in driving their own cars buy this type of vehicle the streets could actually be a lot safer.
Predicting a computer controlled car’s behavior would be a lot easier than one controlled by a human more interested in his or her smartphone.
The value of these new vehicles would be significantly more initially and thus probably worth repairing. I would definitely look forward to the challenges of caring and repairing this new fleet.
This new technology seems to be the perfect excuse for me to make my move before it is too late.
The late eighties Porsche 911 manual transmission and all has to become part of my automotive family before they become collector’s items. Hopefully my wife sees the logic in this.
Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC.
He will write every other Thursday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org