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Are we all just driverless dreamers?

We are quicker than many may expect to integrate automated driving into our daily lives (Photo: Adobe Stock)

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2025AD Team
2025AD Team

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Hello, automated driving community! Waymo puts people to sleep, Phantom Auto explores remote rescue and Ford calls in the drones: we bring you this week’s key stories from the world of automated driving!

Times are tough for AD skeptics as it becomes increasingly clear how quickly innovative technology turns into a routinely used asset. A video released last week by Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Waymo shows riders in an autonomous car going from child-like excitement to dozing off or playing with their cell phones as they are chauffeured around. Highlighting the experience of participants in the company’s early rider program, the video shows that we are quick to integrate automated driving into our daily lives once we get the opportunity.

This is confirmed by the previously reported findings of an American Automobile Association (AAA) study. The AAA found that fewer and fewer Americans are worried about automated driving. Some 63% of US drivers report feeling afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, down from 78% a year earlier. Male drivers and millennials are most trusting of autonomous technology, with only half reporting fear of riding inside a fully autonomous car.

In line with this sentiment, many countries still require a backup for automated driving on public streets. Yet there are signs that backup is taking, well – not just a back seat. It may well be sitting miles away from the car it supervises.

Call the operator for support

Take California’s Phantom Auto, for example. The company’s software engineers use a live, two-way video connection along with the kind of steering wheel and pedals usually reserved for video games to remotely steer cars through traffic. As California will allow companies to test autonomous vehicles without a safety driver as of next month, technology such as that by Phantom Auto may soon become a crucial safety feature.

In the future envisioned by Phantom Auto, a car in need of help would contact a Phantom Auto center, where a remote operator could use the car’s cameras and sensors to maneuver the vehicle out of trouble.

Ford: Help is in the air

And if this does not help, Ford may come to the rescue. The motor company has applied for a patent that would have a drone attach itself to the vehicle and act as a surrogate sensor if the car's sensors failed.

Ford envisions the autonomous car to communicate its location via the vehicle-to-vehicle network to one of the help drones. The drone would then approach your car and land on the roof, guiding you safely to the nearest repair shop before buzzing off again.

While this may sound like science fiction, it is technically feasible. Drones need their own sensors, so why not share them with a car in need? Practically, however, it may take some time to implement this. Drones are barred from certain areas such as airports, their potential to hijack a car must be minimized and, quite simply, the question is: are enough drones available in any given area to helicopter in on stranded vehicles.

While we are contemplating signs of automated car technology becoming more and more commonplace, Sebastian Thrun, formerly heading Google’s efforts in automated driving and a towering figure in the field, is said to have moved on: Apparently underutilized by his day job as president of Udacity, he is hoping to make cars fly. Makes you skeptical? Well, think again.

So long, drive safely (until cars are driverless), 

The 2025AD Team

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