It was once a fantastical concept. Self-driving cars would never become a reality. The future is here, but maybe not in the way once envisioned by George Jetson. Drivers will not be able to get into their vehicle and take a nap or read the paper on their way to work. While sophisticated, today’s cars are not truly autonomous.

According to NPR, completely autonomous vehicles are being tested, but for now, the driver still has to be cognizant of their surroundings.

Companies such as Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s Alphabet Inc., specialize in self-piloted technology. Numerous engineers have worked to digitally map large swatches of the American landscape, work that has laid the groundwork for Waymo’s technology.

In Chandler, Arizona, Waymo created an autonomous taxi service. In addition to the taxi service, delivery vans and tractor-trailers are in the works. Waymo has been working with manufacturers including Nissan-Renault and Jaguar Land Rover to add their technology into future vehicles.

The Cruise Origin

In addition to Waymo, GM and Honda partnered up to develop better self-piloted electric cars that take the stress out of driving and lessen the environmental impact. Studies have indicated that driving can be stressful to the driver, which increases the odds that they will make a mistake such as running a red light or falling asleep at the wheel.  Their technology is under the brand name Cruise.

As GM and Honda focused on improving the vehicle they call the Cruise Origin, they removed the engine and the person behind the wheel. They went as far as to remove all of the things the driver needs to navigate the vehicle. There is no steering wheel or pedals. The mirrors are missing, as are the windshield wipers.  The seats all face each other, creating more legroom and elbow room.

For the time being, the Cruise Origin is operating as a rideshare program in San Francisco, California. The navigation is done based on previously mapped roads that the Cruise Company compiled during a million-mile autonomous drive. During those million miles, the Cruise technology learned how people drove, how to react, and how to maneuver within those mapped areas. They specifically looked for chaos, so they could present abnormal behavior to their software.

The Cruise Origin learned well enough to be sent across the country, a trek during which not a single incident occurred. All of the data compiled on the trip has been translated into program updates and upgrades as Cruise works to improve the product’s capabilities.

What the public sees now

Until these experimental vehicles are released to the public, the closest the general population has to self-propelled cars is the use of sensors and GPS that make up the safety packages in today’s models. Lane-change assist, super-cruise with its ability to speed up and slow down, and steering assist are all part of the newer vehicles. Depending upon the make, their names may vary – Subaru’s EyeSight and Volvo’s Pilot Assist.

None of the safety suites is capable of fully autonomous driving. Not even Tesla that prides itself in having the first self-piloted car can claim that. Tesla drivers must always be aware of the road.

According to Kelly Blue Book, there are five levels of SE driving, and most of the vehicles fall under the Level 2 category, which consists of technology such as adaptive cruise control and lane-change assist. The driver must keep their eyes on the road. Level 5 means that the car can drive itself and has no pedals or steering wheels, much like the Cruise Origin.

The truly self-driving vehicle may seem to be futuristic, but the fantastical has a way of becoming reality.