Driverless cars, also know as autonomous cars, are vehicles capable of fulfilling the normal human transportation capabilities, as regular cars with drivers would do. In order to achieve this, they need the ability of understanding their surroundings and navigation without the need of human input.
The whole idea behind driverless cars is to increase safety and reduce the number of accidents and deaths caused by traffic, which as we all know are huge. Autonomous cars can "think" about multiple factors at once, this is, receive multiples sources of information way faster than humans can, such as driving speed, distance to other cars, and so on. This makes a driverless car safer than the regular cars, even though their systems still need to be tested more extensively.
They are being developed since the early 1920's, but recently they came to our highlights mainly due to Google's attempt on this subject. This project is really promising, being tested in the US states of Nevada, Florida and California. The video below shows a little more about Google's driverless car, wether this promotional video shows Steve Mahan, a legally blind man, "driving" it without any difficulties. Volvo is also working on a similar project.
CaRINA - Carro
Robótico Inteligente para Navegação
CaRINA, standing for Intelligent Robotic Car for Autonomous Navigation, is a similar project developed in INCT-SEC (Science and Technology National Institute for Critical Embarked Systems), an Institute inside the brazilian São Paulo University. Starting in 2010, this project had two "parts": CaRINA 1 is an electric Club Car model Carryall 232, with a top speed of 35 km/h (21.7 mph) and an autonomy of about 10 hours; CaRINA 2, the most highlighted vehicle in the project, is a Fiat Palio Adventure Dualogic. Other than some minor changes, its interior is almost untouched, and has some needed modifications on the outside.
CaRINA 2 has two on-board computers linked to several other devices such as GPS, cameras and lasers. Both computers use Linux Ubuntu as operating system and the ROS platform to exchange messages between processes.
CaRINA 1 was tested inside the University Campuses, as CaRINA 2 was, but the Fiat Palio was recently taken to the public roads of São Carlos, inside São Paulo, for the first test on the "real world". It is believed that CaRINA 2 is the first autonomous vehicle to take a go in any Latin America public roads.
State Of the Art In Driverless Cars
Science fiction had seen this coming a long time ago. For example, a famous autonomous car is the KITT, which helped David Hasselhoff's character Michael Knight to fight crime over and over again.
The truth is that driverless cars are close to becoming a viable reality. Once their systems are fully developed, tested and safe, it is to be expected that they take over. They will be safer, more efficient and more reliable drivers than we are, with much shorter reaction times and much larger information intake capabilities. Also, they will surely "gamble" less, adapting the driving style to the outside conditions.