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Self Driving Cars: Robotic Cars to Improve Safety and Fuel Efficiency on the Road

Updated on June 14, 2015

Can You Imagine Operating a Driverless Car?

Believe it or not, we are close to the time that we can get into a vehicle and simply have the machine navigate us to where we want to go.

Some experts believe that fully autonomous vehicles will be available as soon as by 2020. No worries about texting, talking on cell phones or engaging in other distracted driving actions. In fact, you won't even need to find a place to park because your self driving car will drop you off first before finding a spot at the parking garage.

Don't believe me?

Watch the videos below and see how these future cars can help improve safety and fuel efficiency on the road. Not only can we help prevent accidents caused by distracted driving, but lanes of traffic can be safely reduced in size, allowing us to move more cars in the same space to help relieve congested highways. As a result, commute time is reduced, which reduces fuel consumption.

Take out needless extra driving around (either because you are lost or because you are trying to find a convenient parking place) and you can save even more gas!

Curious? Read on about self-driving cars!

Hands free driving with an autonomous car
Hands free driving with an autonomous car | Source

Self Driving Cars and Other Electric Cars Highlighted at the 50th Anniversary of the Seattle World's Fair

My dad has been involved with future cars for many years now. He is the one that first introduced me to the real possibilities of electric cars and is now helping to promote self driving cars as another means toward achieving energy independence and reducing fuel costs.

These future concept cars will be highlighted in September 2012 at the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The City of Seattle and the Seattle Center Foundation formed the Next 50 committee, with the following vision:

“The Next Fifty does more than just look back to the Seattle World's Fair: It once again ignites creativity and vision and looks to the future.”

On September 7, 2012, you can attend a conference and workshops at McCall Hall at the Seattle Center, entitled "Beyond Oil, Transforming Transportation in the 21st Century ."

According to program materials, attendees will learn about "the convergence of advances in information technology, communications, batteries, lightweight materials, smart grid technologies, aviation biofuels and electric vehicles."

These automotive technologies, either existing or in development in the first part of this century will make getting from place to place safer, more efficient and more affordable than ever. As a result, experts predict that advances like self driving cars and electric vehicles will transform our communities in a positive way.

Fewer vehicle emissions, less space required for wide streets and safer conditions for drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists are all expected.

Google's Self-Driving Car

Driving in the 1960s vs. 2010

91 million
210 million
79 mllion
242 million
Interstate miles
14,426 miles
47,182 miles
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration
Google's driverless car
Google's driverless car | Source

How do Self Driving Cars Work?

Google is leading the way toward viable, self-driving cars, under the guidance of Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun. Until recently, Google's self-driving cars were undergoing development in secret. Today, as shown in the videos throughout this article, Google is allowing press to go along for the ride, experiencing the future of driving!

Using "telematics," an onboard computerized information and communications system within the vehicle, drivers can obtain real time data, the most efficient travel route to their desired destination, and avoid traffic. Telematics also can guide you to the nearest open parking space or gas station. Already in use in some modern vehicles, telematics is becoming increasingly advanced to the point of cars being able to literally drive themselves.

Professor Thrun and Google engineer Chris Urmson described how self driving cars work in a speech at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in San Francisco in April 2012.

As they explained, the key to operating a driverless car is the Velodyne 64-beam laser, mounted on top of the car, that generates a detailed 3D map of the environment. The car uses the images that it "sees" with the laser and overlays the data onto computerized maps of the world.

Not only does the laser provide real-time feedback concerning the car's surroundings, but radar sensors on the front and rear bumpers gather information concerning traffic, pedestrians and even animals darting into the road. Another camera detects traffic lights, and a GPS system tracks the car's every movement.

The engineers have programmed the self-driving cars to act as a "normal" driver might behave, as well. For example, a driverless car will stop at a 4-way intersection and yield to other cars. If another car misses its turn, Google's self-driving car will slightly advance to show the direction it intends to move.

Google's involvement in this project is largely due to the massive amount of computations and mapping data that is required to make self-driving cars "smart."

How do Self Driving Cars Work?

What Issues are Addressed by Self Driving Cars?

Self-driving and other future cars cars are expected to be beneficial in many ways. Among other things we can address:

1. Dependence on Foreign Oil

Not only is the continued dependence on the Middle East for oil supplies extremely expensive, but it puts the U.S. in a poor position when it comes to national defense. We are literally fighting to maintain access to the vast reserves, while such dependence is not sustainable. The cost to protect world oil supplies in this region is more than $80 billion per year for the United States military.

Its also expensive for consumers. Did you know that oil now costs over $100/barrel today, yet only 10 years ago, it was a mere $20/barrel? In short, imported oil costs one billion (that's billion with a "b") each and every day, resulting in half of the U.S. trade deficit.

With significantly increased efficiency from self-driving cars, combined with electric vehicle technology, it could be a whole new world in just 10-15 years.

2. Road Accidents

In the U.S. alone, there are more than 30,000 motor vehicle-related fatalities each year. Around the world, vehicle accidents claim more than one million lives annually. Road accidents are the leading cause of injury death among children 10-19 years old. Smart, self-driving vehicles are expected to be able to react faster than humans to avoid accidents. Experts predict a potential 80% reduction in motor vehicle accidents.

3. Traffic Congestion

Who likes to sit in traffic? Not me! In fact, that is one of the primary reasons we moved from a major metropolitan area to a smaller, rural setting in 2006. Traffic congestion wastes time, money and fuel, which hurts the economy and results in excessive amounts of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Let's not even consider the stress-related health impacts of traffic congestion!

Self-driving cars will reduce traffic congestion and pollution caused by stop and go driving by increasing road capacity without building more lanes. Autonomous vehicles can travel much more closely (and safely) than driver-operated cars, which can also boost the capacity of existing highways by three-fold.

With self-driving cars in the future, people can more easily "share" vehicles with others. Can you imagine the day when you use an application on your smart phone to call a driverless car to pick you up at any given time to drive you where you need to go?

Mercedes Self Driving Car

Would you Operate a Driverless Car?

See results

Autonomous Self Driving Cars

Google's Self Driving Car

© 2012 Stephanie Hicks


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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub Steph on the future of self-driving cars. It sounds pretty neat and cool. Voted up for interesting!

    • jrueff profile image

      Joshua Rueff 

      6 years ago from Kansas City

      Watched the google car vid and thought:

      Matrix: 1

      Humans: 0

      Freaky... No, I'm joking.

      Very informative and interesting hub, I would actually love to have one of these when they become marketable/affordable!


    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 

      6 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Self driving cars would be so awesome! Then I could enjoy the road trips I use to take without the fatigue! I can hardly wait. Something I have been supporting for a long time. We really do need to get rid of depending on others oil for sure!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      You know, I just backed into a parked (illegally) car a few days ago. A self-driving car would have detected it and avoided it... darn it!

    • SweetiePie profile image


      7 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I thought I saw a car driving with no one in it the other day, and now that I think about it, it was. You know maybe it is a bit safer compared to those who text and check Facebook when driving.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi SweetiePie - they are learning a lot about engine noises (added to electric cars) and these self-driving cars are much more aware of their surroundings than the average driver with multiple cameras and sensors. They are even programmed to "anticipate" what other drivers and walkers will do. But still, I am with you until I see it safely in action, I would be scared to cross the street in front of one of these vehicles....

    • SweetiePie profile image


      7 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I am going to be the one to say the self-driven cars scare us pedestrians. I am thinking about doing a blog post over on the pedestrian walking life about how these are a scary concept with the technology being so rudimentary still. I was cut off by four drivers this week on the walking light, and a self-propelled scar is not comforting really. Well at least it is not texting, so maybe it will be a bit safer in some circumstances. I am just worried about it malfunctioning and hitting a pedestrian such as older people who cannot move out of the way fast enough.

    • jacksander profile image


      7 years ago from Houston

      Great article, as I am really interested in this king of technology. It's just astonishing what cars can do today: they are able to park themselves and even drive without a human.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks very much - I do believe that future technology will enable us all to drive safer and smarter. Love that idea of car trains, too. And a single-occupant vehicle would be super, if it could be safe.

      Cheers, Steph

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      This is very cool and I am convinced it will happen within the 10 year time frame you mentioned. I definitely see the potential for safety since so many people drive like bats out of hell, but I will be one of those people who won't get one (unless I was blind!) because I prefer to have complete control. But there will be a day when people won't know how to drive anymore because they have automated cars.

      The next step is to create, "car trains," and cars become more like modules that can be reorganized into efficient formations for fuel and time savings. It is crazy we all drive our own cars that can carry at least four people but only takes the driver around for the majority of its use. I would prefer a motorcycle sized vehicle except it isn't safe with all the crazies behind large vehicles. With self driving vehicles, that can all change.

      Good subject for a hub!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks everyone! Sorry for the delay in responding to comments. I've been out of town! Really looking forward to going to Ford later in June to find out more about the future of cars!

    • caleb89 profile image


      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      That's my kind of car!

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      7 years ago

      What a fascinating hub! I hope these robotic cars will actually be available very soon. Then people who are so addicted to texting while driving will be able to do both things without crashing their cars or killing anybody!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very interesting. I do wonder about the potential for abuse though.

      If all of our cars are self-driven, they will only be able to go so far as their programming allows, unless there is a feature to "switch it off" and "go manual" (there's a new term!).

      The future is definitely going to be much more mechanistic than it is now. Voted up.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      7 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Absolutely fascinating, technology-wise. Great job of detailed research you did here.

      I would love to experience this, but I doubt I will live long enough, and even if I do, I don't foresee such a vehicle fitting into my budget.

      The problem with brand-new automotive technology, is that it is invariably released first in cars affordable only to the wealthy. Anti-lock brakes are a prime example--they first came out on high-end cars--a slap in the face to the rest of us, in effect saying that only the well-to-do deserve to be safer.

      The final video, with its predictions of salvaging the economy will hold true ONLY if the US manages to stop the hemorrhage of jobs to overseas markets. As they pointed out, the Asians and Europeans are already ahead of us.

      And for those who cannot afford a new car--what about technology to retrofit older vehicles? Obviously possible, or their prototypes would not exist...what will that cost, I wonder?

      On a lighter, slightly sarcastic note--I can see the cops hating this--they'll lose all their revenue from writing tickets! ;-)

      Great, hub, very interesting, voted up across the board and shared!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      It is kind of a stretch, isn't it? Especially when you think about movies like Transformers. Then again, look how cool it is that a blind man can "drive" a car?! :-) Best, Steph

    • chinemeremz profile image

      Chinemere onuekwusi 

      7 years ago

      Self driving cars? Well this is too much for me to condense at the moment. If this concept can be made possible, then I'm looking at a future where robots could take over the running of our entire system, this is so funny to me especially when I look at sci-fi films and thrillers like "Transformers" where robots even look down on humans. Driving cars? A wonderful concept, but no matter how deep and profound we believe in technology, this can never bring order to our world, only we humans can. Thank for this wonderful and entertaining piece, voted up!

    • rijashamza profile image


      7 years ago from KANNUR-KERALA-INDIA

      wowww ........... Fantastic ...

      good article ,In this centuary , the self driving car is necessary ,it can reduce fuel consumption .

      May be ,the next world war for the fuel .now Many developed countries try to innovate this type of vehicle. We can hope ,it dominate our roads ........

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks everyone! My dad and I were having a great conversation about this a few weeks ago. He piled me up with literature and I've been spending hours watching the cool videos.

      Imagine my surprise when I got an invitation this week from Ford Motor Company to go out to Michigan this summer to learn about their cars of the future in June?! I cannot wait to learn more, take some first-hand video and get additional information on when we can expect these to hit the market, price points and much more. Best, Steph

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      Fascinating! So whre do I go to purchase one of these self-driving beauties when they come on the market, Steph? And do you have any idea how much they will cost?

    • wynnestudios profile image


      7 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      WOW... great article. I think I spent at least 30 minutes on here reading and watching the videos. Now if they can build a small room with wheels that drives itself, that would rock. I could play games, watch TV and surf the web all while the vehicle is driving me to Disneyland! Sounds wonderful.

    • Brandon Martin profile image

      Brandon Martin 

      7 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Wow! Incredible hub! I personally don't think this would be very safe, only because every piece of technology malfunctions, dies or something at some time. This would be great for the elderly who have no one to take them places. This must have been fun to publish! Keep up the good work!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      I have always imagined what a car like this would look like and here it is! I would definitely consider buying one of these in the future. Enjoyed the great content information on this one.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub...a co-worker of mine and i were talking about this the other day...voted up



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