The car is owned by the company Yandex, who have a history in information technology. Some feats include becoming Russia’s search engine of choice with a 52% market share, they have an online music service, social networking sites and most notably, and one that relates to today’s video, a Maps service which includes GPS support.
This is where their self driving car comes in. They gave their first rides in the US, and Nick and I were among the first to experience the futuristic technology. Now, the only experience we’ve had with self driving cars here in the UK are horror stories coming from testing these vehicles. Now nothing scary happened on our ride, but it was a very odd feeling sitting in the back of a car with no driver.
Nick and I, along with two reps were crammed into a Toyota Prius. Not the biggest of cars, but roomy enough. There was a rep in the middle seat, and an engineer in the front passenger seat, as laws state there must be a ‘resonsible person’ inside the car. Laws dictate that you’re not allowed totally autonomous cars on the road yet.
So, the Toyota. It’s fitted with an array of radars, lidars and cameras which can detect what’s going on in the world around them. There are also five cameras mounted around the car which captures 360-degree video, and combined, the car can detect objects up to 200-meters away. These are things like cars, bikes and pedestrians. Even bollards and barriers that could impede entry into a car park are noticed.
All this information is processed by a computer that’s stored in the back, in the place where you’d usually find a spare tyre. The computer is custom-built, and uses software created by the Yandex team.
There were two tablet screens in the car. The first was next to the engineer in the front so he could keep tabs on the surrounding environment, and the second was attached to the rear centre console so we could see what was going on. Cars appeared as rectangles, and pedestrians appeared as little dots. Everything was there, it was amazing to see, that the car could map out what was going on real-time, and display it for us. It’ll only be a matter of time before the tablet could display a real life feed. The map on the tablet also showed us a mapped route, and also let us know if the route had to change due to traffic build up or an accident in the road.
Okay, so being honest, the technology isn’t perfect, and there were times where the car confused people standing at the side of the road, for potential hazards causing us to bump towards right ahnd left hand turns, as the car couldn’t quite figure it out, or it was being extra cautious. While we were cruising though down four lane roads, the car managed to stop smoothly behind vehicles, and even recognised red lights to stop at intersections. The car was also on a predefined route, so the Yandex team could easily map excrutiatingly small details to provide us with the smoothest ride possible, so we weren’t able to really gauge how this car would act if you got in and told it to go from point A to point B.
But nevertheless, I was left extremely impressed, and it was an amazing experience witnessing the future of automobiles. Sure, we’re not going to see fully autonomous cars driving around any time soon, and due to laws and regulations of countries and even individual states in America, they’ve got a long way to come before they’ll be released into this world. But saying that, it sure is fantastic seeing companies innovating like this, to a point where we can experience it, if it was only for 15 minutes.