What seems more futuristic: flying cars or self-driving cars? They both sound a bit like science fiction, but they’re both getting closer to becoming a reality. In the latest chapter of Google’s efforts to develop a car that uses video cameras, radar sensors and lasers to navigate through traffic, the state of Nevada just granted Google the world’s first license for a computer-controlled, driverless Toyota Prius. Meanwhile, this week we also checked in on the PAL-V (which stands for “Personal Air and Land Vehicle”), a two-seat hybrid car and gyroplane that runs on gas, biodiesel or bio-ethanol. In other transportation news, the Texas Central Railroad floated a plan to build a $ 10-billion bullet train that would run between Houston and Fort Worth, and Toyota officially unveiled its second-generation 2012 RAV4 EV, which features a Tesla powertrain.
We also saw green technology cropping up in unexpected places this week, like the $ 1-billion ghost town that will be built on virgin desert land in Lea County, New Mexico to test emerging green technologies. Construction on the ghost town is set to begin in late June. Milwaukee native Bryan Cera invented Glove One, a 3D-printed glove that doubles as a cell phone. And in Tokyo, participants heaved 100,000 LED lights into the Sumida River as part of the 2012 Tokyo Hotaru Festival. Although it certainly looked cool, that’s a lot of LED bulbs to literally dump in the river, and it raises some questions about e-waste. GE found a more practical use for LEDs, unveiling a new LED light bulb to replace the 100-watt incandescent.
Continue reading Inhabitat’s Week in Green: self-driving cars, solar parasols and the ultimate DIY Iron Man suit
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This is a video of a blind man going for a spin in Google’s self-driving car. Why does it have a steering wheel and rear-view mirror if it drives itself? No clue, I feel like you should have haggled with the car salesman a little more. Dammit, I don’t WANT pedals and I’m not gonna pay for them! The car is pretty impressive and dude even swings by a Taco Bell drive-thru for lunch because you don’t have to be able to see to appreciate a burrito. You do have to be able to taste though, so go easy on the flaming cocktails.
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California may be the 800-pound gorilla in the automotive legislation world, but their neighbor Nevada seems to be taking the initiative when it comes to self-driving cars. They’ve adopted a number of regulations into law, and are pushing the state as a legal testing-ground for companies preparing such vehicles. These changes were telegraphed last summer, when the state legalized driverless cars to begin with. Now they’re hammering out the details.
There’s money involved, of course: a $ 1m to $ 3m bond must be purchased if you want to test your robocar in the state, depending on the nature of the project. And the laws will have to change, naturally, once the vehicles go from science project to highway reality. But these early calls seem reasonable.
The new regulations are partly aimed at making testing safe and legitimate, and partly at actually accommodating driverless vehicles on the road. For instance, information from testing must be shared with the state, along with the purpose of the experimentation and information about the cars. This information will be useful to urban planners and the like, who may want to immunize their cities against future robocar problems.
Two people must be in the cars at all times for now, and there must be a sort of “black box” device that records data in case of a crash. Robocars will have red license plates, and later, when certified, green. There will likely have to be some kind of national standard for identifying an autonomous vehicle.
And there are also allowances for the human element: a person will be considered the “operator” of a vehicle whether they are physically present or not. How this will work when the cars are completely autonomous and cause a wreck anyway isn’t clear. But it does also inform an interesting (and probably correct) decision also included in the regulations: for now, you can’t use an autonomous vehicle as a designated driver. Just because you aren’t turning the steering wheel doesn’t mean you’re not “operating” the vehicle. Drinkers be warned.
You will, however, be able to call or text on your mobile while in a robocar. That particular decision was carved out of the earlier law banning texting while driving. So text away or watch a movie, but remember that you’re still in charge of the vehicle.
Who needs safety drivers? Not Germany’s Freie University, that’s for sure, which has just demonstrated a self-driving taxi to rival Google’s efforts without a soul at the wheel. This laser, radar and sensor-equipped VW Passat, dubbed “Made in Germany,” has a companion iPad app from Appirion to do all the hard work, too — you just start the program, punch in coordinates and wait for the car to extract itself from a nearby parking lot and pick you up from school. Ladies and gents, the future is now. Watch it right after the break.
Continue reading Self-driving taxi picks you up at the press of a button (video)
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There’s a Toyota Prius in California, and a VW Passat halfway around the globe — each equipped with bucket-shaped contraptions that let the cars drive themselves. Following their research on autonomous autos in the DARPA Urban Challenge, a team at Germany’s TU Braunschweig let the above GPS, laser and sensor-guided Volkswagen wander down the streets of Brunswick unassisted late last week, and today Google revealed that it’s secretly tested seven similar vehicles by the folks who won that same competition. CMU and Stanford engineers have designed a programmable package that can drive at the speed limit on regular streets and merge into highway traffic, stop at red lights and stop signs and automatically react to hazards — much like the German vehicle — except Google says its seven autos have already gone 1,000 unassisted miles each. That’s still a drop in the bucket, of course, compared to the efforts it will take to bring the technology home — Google estimates self-driving vehicles are at least eight years down the road. Watch the TU Braunschweig vehicle in action after the break.
Continue reading Google and TU Braunschweig independently develop self-driving cars (video)
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