The Autonomous Auto

This specially equipped Toyota Prius can drive itself.

I believe the first prototypes that will change the way we travel by car are running around the roads of Nevada right now. In March 2011, Nevada gave approval for the operation of self-driving or autonomous cars. The first car to be granted a license was a Toyota Prius equipped by Google with equipment to navigate anywhere you’d like to go, and the car can do all the driving without any help.

The autonomous car uses radar, lasers, lidar, GPS and computer vision to make driving decisions. The computer operated car is projected to be safer and more accident free than human drivers. Several major auto manufacturers such as BMW, Volvo, GM, and Ford all are researching the autonomous car.

The autonomous cars in Nevada have now racked up more than 200,000 accident-free miles. One of the cars is used by a legally blind driver. These cars could be of great benefit to the handicapped, the old, the young, because you don’t need a driver’s license or driving skills to use the car.

If autonomous cars become available, it will change travel by car in one big way. No longer will you need to attend to driving. Instead, you could be sleeping, watching TV, surfing the web, or whatever.

Under current Nevada regulations, there has to be a person in the car, but that could change if the self-driving cars prove reliable. In the near future, you might be able to send your car to do your grocery shopping. Just email your shopping list to the store and the car would be loaded up by store personnel and sent back home. The car could do all kinds of boring errands, runs for fast food, take the kids to school, getting home from the bar (no DWI if the car is driving), pizza, you name it, the car can fetch it.

And it’s just a matter of time until autonomous taxis and buses take to the street, as technology eliminates the need for drivers. With fewer accidents, the cost of insurance could be reduced as well as the cost of police.

Future generations may not know how to drive a car any more than the current generation knows how to hitch up a team of horses to a wagon. Getting behind the wheel and operating a car may be an unnecessary skill in the not too distant future.