Vehicles that virtually drive themselves are no longer the stuff of science fiction, with Google and other companies working to develop self-driving cars. These automated vehicles not only offer improved safety and fewer traffic jams, but real environmental benefits as well.
Imagine standing on a street corner in Manhattan, in need of a taxi to take you from Union Square up to Columbia University. You punch your destination into an app on your phone, which tells you the cab should be there in 30 seconds. A car pulls up as promised, and you get in and relax on your way uptown, just as with any cab ride. The only difference? No one is driving this cab.
This is one scenario that impressive advances in self-driving vehicle technology have turned into a legitimate possibility in the not-so-distant future. Since the early days of cars, we have been looking for ways to automate them, including the cruise control and parking assist systems available today. But as high-profile projects by Google and others have begun to show, we are getting closer to much more thorough automation, where cars may actually start to drive themselves with only minimal assistance from the person at the wheel. From drastic safety improvements to huge reductions in fuel use and accompanying emissions, the potential of self-driving cars is impressive. And they may be coming sooner than you think.