Driverless cars have long been the stuff of entertainment, where disbelief is suspended for TV or a film. Among our top five driverless cars we have the finest examples from fact and fiction, proving that the products of Hollywood imagination could one day become reality on our roads, well, apart from a VW Beetle that blinks.
The engineers at Berlin's Free University created the MIG (Made In Germany) that uses cameras, laser scanners and satnav to "see" other vehicles and pedestrians and deal with traffic. The robotics experts, in the AutoNOMOS laboratory of the university, work under the direction of computer science professor Raul Rojas. Rojas sees a future with shared vehicles: "Autonomous vehicles could make car sharing a reality by picking up passengers outside their front door, taking them to the workplace and then continuing on with more passengers."
Knight Industries Two Thousand, or KITT, was a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am fitted with a microprocessor that allowed the car to "think" in the TV series Knight Rider. Sometimes KITT would drive allowing his partner Michael Knight to play arcade games. But, the car did have some other handy features, such as turbo boost, silent mode, grappling hook and winch, skis, tear gas launcher and flame thrower. In the 70th episode, as a surprise gift for Michael, KITT was made into a convertible.
Last month Google announced that it had been quietly testing a fleet of autonomous cars around California and had logged more than 225,000kms - including crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, navigating the steep, twisting Lombard Street in San Francisco and circumnavigating Lake Tahoe. Google believes that autonomous vehicles have the potential to cut the number of lives lost in road traffic accidents, plus with the average person in the US spending 52 minutes commuting, time could be better spent. Surfing the web perhaps?
The mischevious VW Beetle with a mind of its own first appeared in the 1968 film The Love Bug, and most recently the Lindsay Lohan-starring Herbie: Fully Loaded in 2005. For the original film Disney allegedly set up a casting call for cars. When people walked past the other cars they kicked the tyres and played with the steering wheel, but with the white Beetle they had a tendency to pet it, and that is why it got the job. In the 2005 film, the main character buys Herbie for $75, the same price paid in the original movie.
Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak
This joint project involves Audi, the Electronic Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, and Stanford University, and the goal of the project is to ascend Pikes Peak (4,300m) autonomously without a driver behind the wheel with advanced driver assistance systems and GPS. In September, a helicopter filming the Audi for a television commercial crashed near the summit of the Colorado mountain after a sudden downdraft; the pilot suffered minor injuries. The project continues. and Audi took the car to SEMA 2010 (Specialty Equipment Marketing Association), the world's biggest auto accessories trade show, in Las Vegas earlier this month.