Self-Driving Car Allows Legally Blind Man to ‘Drive’ – [VIDEO]
One of my favorite TV shows growing up was the original Knight Rider. Not because it starred David Hasselhoff, he was never the star in my mind. The real star was the car, the "Knight Industries Two Thousand" (affectionately referred to as K.I.T.T.). K.I.T.T. was awesome! It was fast, it had weapons for any occasion, and spoke in a gentlemanly voice provided by actor William Daniels (who went on to play George Feely in Boy Meets World). More importantly, K.I.T.T. could drive himself. I would often daydream of K.I.T.T. picking me up at school after calling him through my watch just like Hasselhoff's character, Michael Knight. Keep in mind this was 1982 so I was six at the time, although even at 35, I still think it would be sweet! Thanks to one well-known company, those early childhood daydreams could become reality in the "not-too-distant-future".
The company behind the self-driving concept car isn't Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler, or any other auto manufacturer...it's Google. And apparently, they've been working on it for a while.
They've already logged over 200,000 miles in test runs on a variety of closed courses and real world routes, including a few miles with Steve Mahan behind the wheel. 95% of Steve's vision is gone making him, as he puts it, "more than legally blind". But as you'll see in the video, if this self-driving car becomes a standard vehicle on our roads someday, it will give Steve and others like him the ability to get from one place to another without relying on the help of others.
So how does it work? Using a 64-beam rotating laser mounted on the roof of the vehicle, the car makes a continuous 3-D map of it's surroundings and uses radars mounted in the front and back bumpers to detect surrounding traffic along with other potential obstacles such as light posts, and even pedestrians too busy updating their Facebook status to realize they didn't look both ways before crossing the street.
A camera positioned near the rear-view mirror detects traffic lights, while an on board GPS, inertial measurement unit, and wheel encoder determine the vehicle's location and keep track of its movements. Pretty wild, right? The video below is from a presentation made by those involved with the project back in October. While some of the "geek-speak" gets a little confusing, the pictures help illustrate what the car is constantly doing while driving along it's user-determined route. Check it out around the five minute mark.
For those who fear that one day machines will rise up and enslave the human race, all Terminator-like, this advancement does nothing more than add fuel to their raging conspiracy theory fire. For others, like myself, that realize if the day comes where my coffee maker tries to choke me to death, I can just pull the plug out of the wall, the idea of a car that not only does the driving for you, but can also be mindful of its surroundings and act accordingly as quickly, if not quicker, than it's human counterpart opens up a whole world of possibilities. Imagine not having to worry about selecting a designated driver. You could go out, have a good time, and let your car make sure you get home in one piece (assuming you're coherent enough at the end of the night to say "drive home"). Planning a family vacation that includes driving overnight to avoid rush hour traffic in bigger cities? Plug in your hotel's address and sleep the night away while the car takes you there.
While those possibilities are nothing more than wishful thinking on my part, keep in mind the idea of a car that drives itself was wishful thinking at one point in time as well.