Self-Driving Cars: Making “Auto” in Automobile a Bit More Literal

On my way back home I saw this strange white and purple vehicle. The car stood out because the design looked like a trolley from the 1900s mixed with a Smart car. The symmetrical design was strange because it had no space for a driver. It took about half a second to realize, it had no driver: it was a self-driving car. So instead of going back home, I spent the next 20 minutes on the slowest, but coolest ride ever.

Seeing ELA up close, By Sung Hong, (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

I had the chance to ride a vehicle named ELA (pronounced Ella), which stands for ELectric Autonomous (Shuttle). The design was simple and the technology in ELA were already commonly used such as GPS and proximity sensors. Though the vehicle was smaller than my room, it had a sensory vision that easily bested a human’s. I was really impressed with how much the car did in the background, constantly scanning its environment and modulating its speed. All of these things were being done by the car’s onboard computer and could track anything. It could be used on any road or even the countryside without the need for complex markers.

Getting onboard, By Sung Hong, (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
In a fully automated vehicle, By Sung Hong, (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Computer sciences have been getting more and more of the spotlight, giving people technology which was only dreamed of by science fiction. The dream of automated vehicles is about to be checked off of that list. There is already a multitude of groups that are working to bring automated cars into daily life. Companies like Tesla have already released a consumer version of automated driving with their autopilot mode. It can already handle most driving tasks to the point that people have been reported to sleep at the wheel while on autopilot (which is still illegal though). While I always knew that the technology was being developed, actually experiencing it for myself, I can say that it isn’t just getting there. It could easily be implemented before I get out of schooling. I look forward to the day when technologies like ELA will make my newly acquired driver’s license obsolete.

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