If I’m not driving, who is?

The lines between science fiction and reality are more and more becoming blurred. Things that 50 years ago were the stuff of novels, sending the readers on incredible journeys into what could be possible, are becoming commonplace in the world today.

One such instance is self driving cars.

Imagine yourself, sitting in your car, arms crossed lounging back in your seat watching the world pass by, when suddenly, red lights in front of you snap your attention back to the road. Before you think to grab the wheel and swerve to miss your rapidly approaching doom, your car casually signals the blinker and changes lanes swiftly cruising past the stopped traffic in the lanes next to you.

No this isn’t impossible, it is currently in existence. The car in question has eyes! Well, not actually eyes, but high tech gadgets and sensors that allow it to monitor the conditions of the road around you to include the other cars. One such sensor is a device called Lidar.

What is Lidar? Lidar is a sensor that sends out millions of beams of lasers (no sharks) and registers how long it takes them to come back. This allows the device to sense where objects are, how big they are, and how to best avoid running into them.

This technology was used on Apollo 15 to scan and map the surface of the moon. It has also been used to scan the bottom of the ocean to survey the ocean floor as well as scan from airplanes to penetrate through deep jungle to see the terrain underneath. I’ve also  witnessed it used to search for alien wreckage!

Elon Musk of Tesla believes camera can do the job of seeing for the cars instead of Lidar, and builds his cars that way. It is Google’s self driving car program, Waymo, that is heading up the Lidar use.

Unfortunately, in the recent news, a self driving (Google) car for Uber hit and killed a woman who was crossing the street with her bicycle. So, perhaps the technology has a ways to go before it is ready for the mass market. The makers of Lidar do insist that the issue doesn’t lie with their technology, but instead with the software that is designed to interpret what the Lidar sent it.

In the end, self driving cars may be here, but perhaps they are not quite ready for the mainstream highways. Perhaps once the technology is further developed we will see more and more of these driverless vehicles hit the road.