Imagining driving in a world without drivers.

Engineers and computer scientists have been working for a long time to make driverless cars a possibility. So many people spend so much time commuting, when they could be doing any number of other things (and some people already try–our advice: don’t).

Imagine if you could have a nice lunch with your family while your car drove to the airport, or if everyone could take a nap during a long drive to vacation.

We’ve talked about this in the past: read about China’s latest driverless-car accomplishments, as well as what’s going on in the driverless-car scene in Europe.

Recently we stumbled upon a video of what a complex intersection might look like, in a world without drivers. Normally you have to stop for a red light to let another direction of traffic go, causing a backup in whatever direction is stopped. In a world where every car is driven by a fast-acting and well-programmed computer, nobody would have to stop–collisions would be avoided by the computers, which could avoid every other car at the intersection:

A great concept of a future, driverless intersection, but not a perfect one.

We think this is cool, but frankly there are some problems that these engineers and computer scientists would have to think about. Because we like to approach things from an engineer’s standpoint:

  • How could you set up an on-the-fly, dynamic network for the cars to communicate through?
  • What would happen if one computer in the network went haywire?
  • After setting up that network, how do you avoid communication errors?
  • How do you secure the network from hackers, who could otherwise cause a lot of damage?
  • How should other cars react if something goes wrong with the steering or brakes in one car?

This is of course beyond the basic problems (which are already tough to solve): getting a car to dynamically detect other cars around it, being able to calculate their velocity, being able to calculate how hard to brake or how sharp to turn, and so forth.

These kinds of questions are things you’d need to ask yourself as an engineer or computer scientist designing the solution. It’s possible that driverless cars will be common when you’re entering the working world, but it’s also quite possible that they still won’t be. But whether they’re common or not, driverless car engineering will be a field that will need a lot of up-and-coming engineers to find solutions to these problems.

Read on:

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