Researchers Aim For Car With Auto-Pilot, But Would You Trust It?

It's been a dream of Earth's residents since The Jetsons made us believe it was a possibility: true auto-pilot. It's alive and well in some cases, but not all. Existing commercial airplanes have an auto-pilot button that guides the planes controls based on the route it needs to take, but that's relatively easy. There's no highway to follow, no drunk drivers to watch out for, and no posted speed limits to obey. Doing the same thing in an automobile is definitely more difficult, as you can probably tell given that no auto-pilot car yet exists for the consumer market.

But just because there's no car like that yet doesn't mean that researchers aren't working towards that goal. A team at North Carolina State University are hoping to expand upon the technology that already parallel parks your car automatically and alerts you when you veer out of your lane, eventually hoping to create cars that can stay in a lane altogether without the help of a human driver. The team has designed software that tells an on-board computer to stay aware of what lane the vehicle is in, and it can even read road signs and keep a watch on other vehicles that roll up beside of it. As we mentioned, existing technology is only capable of finding lanes and sending the driver an alert if they veer over; beyond that, it can't really help.

The technology is even different than that used in the DARPA Challenge, which pits autonomous vehicles against one another in a bid to win a race. Those vehicles require massive amounts of sensors and other external hardware--stuff that would be impractical to install in a consumer car. NC State's technology relies on "computer vision programming, which allows a computer to understand what a video camera is looking at - whether it is a stop sign or a pedestrian." The solution also uses algorithms to "sort visual data and make decisions related to finding the lanes of a road, detecting how those lanes change as a car is moving, and controlling the car to stay in the correct lane." The real kicker is the system's ability to do this while avoiding other cars and without becoming befuddled by multiple lanes.

The end goal? To develop a fully autonomous driverless vehicle. We're talking about a car that can signal, slow down, pull off, etc. Another important aspect here is the car's ability to react if the human suddenly cannot. If a driver has a heart attack, becomes choked, etc., the car could take over and stop in order to avoid a catastrophic event. It's a huge, huge goal, and we're not sure we'll live to see it all fully come together in our lifetime. But who knows--maybe The Jetsons dream will come true in time, and we'll all be able to take a bit easier on the highway with Mr. Navigation at the helm.