Driverless cars seem to be all the rage these days. In July, a pair of bright orange fans embarked upon an 8,000 mile journey from Italy to China, with the caveat that these two vans would drive themselves. Then Google came out with its own driverless Prius, which had logged tens of thousands of miles of testing.

Back to those vans though. Seems some four months later, the pair has finally completed the journey, and for the most part they drove themselves. Will 2010 be remembered not just as the dawn of the electric car, but of the driverless car too?

Using a system called the Generic Obstacle and Lane Detector, or GOLD, these two vans were able to pretty much guide themselves across the two continents. Lasers scanners and video cameras worked together to ensure the vans didn’t cause any accidents (and it is pretty remarkable they made it that far unscathed.) The researchers had to intervene in heavy traffic or at toll booths, but for the most part they did the driving themselves. The vans also happened to be electric, and they did manage an average speed of just 38 mph. What really drew the journey out though was the fact that the vans had to be charged for eight hours every time they ran out of juice.

The ramifications for this, combined with Google’s driverless cars, are huge. Perhaps within another decade, we might actually be able to buy and operate cars that can drive themselves. This could impact fuel usage, traffic flow, accident avoidence, and so much more. Me personally? I’ll never let a computer drive me. I imagine more than a few drivers would jump at the chance to take their hands off of the wheel though.

Does the driverless car appeal to you, or is this the first step towards a Terminator-style robot uprising?

Source: The Detroit News