The self-driving car was achieved–13 years ago. As part of the National Automated Highway Consortium, a team of engineers and scientists had a platoon of eight cars motor down a stretch Interstate-15 in San Diego, driver free and safe.
So what happened? Computers are faster, cars are safer–but we’re not seeing any self-driving cars, as envisioned in sci-fi from Knight Rider to Minority Report. “It was too expensive,” said Mohan Trivedi, a University of California-San Diego professor who specializes in intelligent cars. The cars required highway lined with sensors and magnets to guide the cars, massively increasing the cost of building roads. So the project died.
But not the dream of better cars. Trivedi chaired the IEEE Intelligent Vehicles Symposium last month, and he said science realized that maybe we don’t want to cede control of our cars. “We have a connection with our vehicles we don’t want to give up,” he said.
Instead, smart car research is focused on how cars can better assist their human drivers. There were some pretty cool concepts on display at the conference:
Ever since Knight Rider had it’s reboot a couple of weeks ago, we’ve been watching KITT grow into himself as an independent entity. This week he chafed at taking orders from Michael Knight, and the pair had two pretty hilarious spats. But late in the episode, KITT showed off his new autonomy by disobeying orders and taking control of another vehicle. In this instance, Michael had been arrested by a Drug Enforcement Agency agent, and was on his way to jail. KITT hacked into the agent’s car’s “RoamStar” satellite system to take over the controls of the car and drive it in such a way that Michael was able to escape.
If your primary method of thwarting criminals is a hyper-intelligent car, that car really needs to be bullet proof or else your career will be short. But if your hyper-intelligent car is also super fast and high-performance, you don’t want to install heavy armor panels that destroys that performance. The current version of Knight Rider solves this problem with some nanotech magic, but the original relied on a special bullet-resistant coating, the formulation of which was the source of some of the best episodes they ever aired (The Goliath episodes, for those conversant).
I almost laughed out loud at the start of last night’s episode of Knight Rider. Mike Traceur sat in KITT’s driver’s seat, reading a dossier, and watching football as he cruised down some scenic highway—and why not, when he’s got a car that can drive itself. Which is when it hit me: I’ve been writing about Knight Rider for weeks without looking into where we are on the whole self-driving car thing! I mean, a car that drives itself has to come before a talking car in the pantheon of useful technology, right?
Ah, the beach episode, a classic of the 1980s crime fighter genre, brought to vivid life in last night’s episode of Knight Rider, when Mike Traceur must infiltrate a band of (what else?) surfing mercenaries to locate a missing secret agent. Fortunately, an episode on the beach creates a perfect opportunity to bust out what has to be one of the coolest, if not always the most useful, things a super car can do, which is go into submarine mode. In last night’s episode a rocket actually blasted KITT off a cliff and into the water. Kitt’s shielding protected Traceur and this week’s sidekick, Zoe Chae, and he made a mid-air transformation to Aqua-KITT. Safe below the waves, Traceur and Chae pondered their next course of action.The episode got me wondering: Could we actually build a submarine car? As you can see from the video clip (skip ahead to 2:35 in the video): yes.