An odd bubble-shaped car comes zipping down the road. It catches your eye as it passes because you notice that the passengers inside – and the driver! – are enjoying a leisurely game of cards with nobody watching the road. What’s more, the steering wheel is missing! Just then, an elderly lady in a wheelchair crosses the road right in the car’s path. A surge of panic starts to rise in your chest… until you realize that the driverless car has come to a gentle halt! The lady crosses and the car continues on its merry way, whizzing out of sight.

This scenario is probably how we would have envisioned the future a few years ago, with some skepticism. But what appeared to be a science fiction scene is now a reality, as self-driving or driverless cars enter our lives. Let’s look at the technological progress that has been made recently so that these cars can become a part of our everyday lives.

Google’s search for self-driving cars

Google initiated its journey in self-driving technology back in 2009. Since then, they have made significant progress and, in 2016, they consolidated their project by creating Waymo, a company entirely dedicated to developing this technology.

Google has tested several self-driving cars on the road since 2012, mainly in California and Nevada. Tests have been carried out on freeways and are currently being rolled out on busy city roads at speeds of up to 40km/h. The goal is to address some of the challenges for driving in a busy urban environment, including stopping the car when access to a destination is blocked. Since tests began, only 11 incidents have occurred with these cars, none of which were attributable to the vehicle itself, and with no significant harm to passengers or pedestrians.

Google’s vehicle fleet includes inhouse designs and customized commercial models for Toyota and Lexus, equipped with sophisticated radar and camera systems that can map out the environment and detect other vehicles, pedestrians, traffic lights and other obstacles. These cars are 100% autonomous, but still come equipped with steering wheels and pedals (except for Google’s own Waymo Firefly) so that drivers can take control whenever they like. Self-driving cars will even be equipped with external pedestrian airbags! Self-driving technology is being developed inside the company and the cars are being built in Detroit, providing a greatly needed boost to the city’s automotive industry.

Other industry players, including Ford, Tesla and General Motors, are all working hard to release their own self-driving cars. Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permits are now available in several US states and many major automotive players have now registered for these licenses, including Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla Motors, BMW, Honda, Ford, Subaru and GM. Challengers and niche players such as Uber, Delphi, Zoox, Drive.ai, Baidu USA, Wheego, Udacity and Navya are also getting into the race. Discover tomorrow’s car manufacturers!

Self-driving cars: Smoothing the way to the future

The reality is that we still have to wait a while before 100% autonomous cars are available for everyone, everywhere. It is estimated that by 2035, 9% of all cars worldwide will be driverless, and some forecasts even say that all new cars will be driverless by 2050! Meanwhile, vehicles will be self-driven under certain conditions, for parking or driving on designated highways where data is less complex to handle than in an urban environment.

One thing is certain for now: Google is leading the self-driving revolution, leveraging its expertise in software as only they can. But, to ensure vehicle performance and safety, it will take more than great software and that’s where innovative and flawless components will come into play, many of which use high-quality silicones. For example, driverless cars will use advanced electronics for their artificial intelligence systems, which means they will need high-performance sensors, cables and other key parts. Silicones will ensure the conductivity of these components and provide them with the insulation to resist heat, moisture, dust and chemical hazards. The road ahead is long and the car that will be doing the driving for you one day will be a combination of Silicon Valley software and silicone-enhanced parts!

Check out one of our previous articles on silicones in electronics to obtain more in-depth information on how silicones provide protection:

Keep automotive electronics safe and sound with silicone

Clément Midroit

Posted by Clément Midroit

Digital Marketing Specialist