I’m sure by now that you’ve all heard the stories about self-driving cars; about how Google’s invented a robotic vehicle capable of chauffeuring people to the airport and back. To many, this technology might still feel very distant. It might surprise you that – within your lifetime – you might have the technology for an autonomous motor vehicle well within your reach. In fact, your current vehicle could be powered by a driverless system. Enter the Cruise self-driving car system, a compact computer designed to operate the current class of vehicles.
Kyle Vogt – best known as one of the founders behind Justin.tv, Socialcam, and Twitch – apparently had his educational roots in a very different field. Turns out, Vogt was looking into autonomous vehicles as an undergraduate before he helped found one of the most popular streaming websites in the world. Now that Twitch is safely under the umbrella (or within the tendrils, depending how you look at things) of Google, he’s shifting his focus back to his old research. He’s founded a robotics startup called Cruise, and recruited a team of engineers and roboticists from MIT.
He’s not just designing another robotic car the likes of which we saw from Google, either. Vogt and his team have evidently constructed a system that can be mounted on an existing car to allow it to drive down highways. Now, the Cruise self-driving car system won’t exactly drive the car on its own – it’ll still need feedback from the driver – but it’s a significant step up from cruise control, for sure. According to Vogt, even five years ago, something like this wouldn’t have been possible. It’s thanks to a combination of Google’s work in the field and Moore’s Law.
“Moore’s law makes this possible,” Vogt said. “The computation systems for self-driving cars were large and bulky when I worked on AV in 2004. We would have 10 servers and a rack in the back of a pick-up truck. But that kind of power is now available in your cell phone.”
“Because of Google, people are ready,” he continued. “Ten years ago, people would’ve said that this is science fiction. But now, they’re not asking if, but when. There’s a perception that self-driving cars are coming and people are expecting them.”
There are three components to Cruise – a sensor that’s mounted on top of the car, and connected actuators that control the steering and driving. Lastly, there’s also a computer that goes in the trunk and requires about a cubic foot of space. The system as it is now can control things such as merging with a tap of the “cruise” button on the dashboard, but such innovation doesn’t come cheap. Currently, the initial version of the Cruise self-driving car system costs $10,000. Some of you might be able to afford that, but as for the rest of us… it might be a while until costs come down to a wider class of driver.