How will RoboCars work, and when will we have RoboCar's?
We're collectively past 2001 and we don't have flying cars, nor video-phones (well, except for FaceTime or Skype), nor AI driven space ships orbiting Saturn, nor most of the other predictions of Science Fiction. The future isn't exactly what we thought it would be, eh? The RoboCar vision described by Brad Templeton and others is a plausible vision of the future, if for no other reason than the multiple efforts underway at universities and corporations around the world working to develop parts of the RoboCar vision. It seems like it's just a matter of time and continued technology development for the ideas to become real.
In Templeton's vision, RoboCars will have on-board camera, RADAR and GPS systems to have a virtual map of the terrain & traffic around the car. Using these data inputs the RoboCars will be able to detect other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, road blockages and more, and be able to drive in any existing traffic condition. He can speak confidently about this because the Google Self-Driving Car project has already logged well over 160,000 miles of driving an automated car (under human supervision) on regular city streets. When fully developed Templeton envisions human occupants of RoboCars kicking back to relax or talk with family members, while the car drives them around the city. Additionally, RoboCars could drive themselves around town even with no human occupants, and such uninhabited cars could be part of a car sharing program, or act as an automated delivery vehicle for stuff bought online from a store.
Google's Self-Driving Car project are modifying Toyota Prius's, and other cars with drive-by-wire systems, to make it easier to interface with the on-board control systems. The drive-by-wire system makes it easier to insert computerized control of driving parameters.
The vision requires no changes to the existing infrastructure and represents a bottom-up approach to rehabilitating the transportation system, rather than a top-down approach. Some visions such as the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) concept requires building a whole new transportation infrastructure of elevated tracks and cars. That new infrastructure requirement, and its cost, has always blocked PRT development. The RoboCar vision uses vehicles similar to the ones driving on roads today, but with computerized control system for automated driving. More importantly, RoboCars require no change to the existing roads. The concept relies on GPS and other systems to help the car know its precise location, and constantly updated map data so the car's onboard sensors can scan the road and detect differences between what's expected and what it sees. For example a pedestrian walking across the road, or other cars on the road, would be different from the objects (street signs, street lights, buildings, etc) in the map data, the on-board computers would detect this difference and have programming to act correctly.