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Driverless cars, not so fast; but cars that can see, now we’re talking

Although sometimes when I’m on a long trip, the idea seems pretty appealing, I’m not quite ready for driverless cars. But as a car buff and an electronics engineer, I’m certainly interested in, and often intrigued by, the increasingly smart technology that’s going into automobiles these days.

In this light, I enjoyed an article from The MIT Technology Review, published last October, that I recently came across. The article, “Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think”, described the promise of “autonomous driving” – fewer accidents, fewer traffic-related deaths – but also pointed out that it’s going to be a while before driverless cars are perfected and cost-effective enough to become the norm.

Not surprisingly, given the cost factor, much of the current work being done in this area is on luxury cars.

I especially enjoyed the detail on the types of technology being used. Since one of my main focus areas here at Critical Link is on imaging, I liked reading about the vision technology being deployed.

In its 5 Series, BMW will be using video cameras to track lane markings and read road signs. They’ll also be embedding radar sensors to spot objects in the road ahead, and side laser scanners. Mercedes-Benz is prototyping an “Intelligent Drive Research Vehicle” that will have a stereo-camera that sees objects in 3-D, and other cameras that will recognize traffic lights and read road signs. It will also have an infrared camera for night vision. GM’s Cadillac SRX will house laser sensors, radar, and cameras.

If you’re not familiar with what Critical Link is doing with vision systems, we offer cameras that can be used in many different imaging and vision applications. These cameras combine sensors from a number of different manufacturers with our DSP or ARM-based system-on-modules to take care of processing. (You can read more about our products here.)

Meanwhile, if you’re a little nervous about driverless cars, keep in mind that they probably won’t be on the road for a few more years. And to further ease your mind, the system in the driverless BMW, for one, is “designed to defer to a human driver, giving up control whenever he or she moves the wheel or presses a pedal. And if all else fails, there is a big red button on the dashboard that cuts power to all the car’s computers.”

As long as the big red button works!