Driverless cars have been in the works for years, and it is likely that they will start to see commercial use in the next year or two. The development process has a been a long and winding road, but it is finally time for humanity to look back and see how far they have come in the past few years.
Where It Began
The hunt for driverless cars began almost a century ago, in 1925. Houdina Radio Control created a car that could be steered via a remote control, and demonstrated it to the public. It wasn’t truly autonomous, but it inspired several decades of attempted improvements.
A new method appeared in the middle of the 20th century, when RCA engineers found a way to steer a car with wires that were laid into the floor. The developers thought they would become universal within a few decades, but the technology never caught on.
The American military led to the next string of innovations, with the DARPA Grand Challenge. The goal was to create driverless vehicles that could operate in a variety of environments, including urban ones, for military use. Private industry has since taken over most of the research and based many of their own designs on those that first came from DARPA’s efforts. Those designs are finally starting to hit the streets.
The era of the driverless car is approaching, but it will still be a few years before private citizens start to purchase them. Plans for their deployment are already in place, so people can form accurate expectations for the future.
The companies that produce these cars are already seeking government approval to deploy them in commercial fleets. Most people will have their first encounter with a driverless car in a taxi service, although it is likely that they will also see use as delivery vehicles. Companies will be able to use the data that they get from these deployments to further refine their designs.
Autonomous driving technology will start to become more common in the years after that first deployment. Driver assistance systems that take over the controls under specific circumstances will likely be the first step for private drivers. In time, fully autonomous cars will become available to individuals, after they have been proven to be safe and effective in other roles.