It’s been a long road to self-driving cars. They no longer require an over-developed imagination, or the suspension of disbelief, like when Knight Rider ruled our TV screens. And it’s not just major vehicle manufacturers that are developing autonomy either. Tesla, Mercedes Benz and Boeing are jostling for pole position against the likes of Google, Apple and Huawei.
Even Uber and Amazon have gotten in on the action, in a bid to streamline their deliveries. While cruise control and auto-pilot used to be at the very edge of high tech, the development of artificial intelligence has resulted in the almost-overnight emergence of driverless vehicles. And it’s not exclusive to cars. The tech has already been applied to trucks and buses, autonomous passenger drones are all the rage in Dubai and recently, a self-driving farming tractor was unveiled.
But while the progress is speeding along, the question that has emerged is, once self-driving cars are ubiquitous, what do we do with all the old, conventional cars? A company called Perrone Robotics is busy addressing this very obvious gap in the market, with something called a “Drop-in Actuator Kit.” As the name suggests, it is a hardware/software kit that can be retro-fitted to make any old car autonomous.
It comes with a metal cylinder that envelopes the steering wheel and is connected to the pedals, handbrake and gear-stick with metal rods. While it’s rather bulky-looking, it is positioned in such a way that it doesn’t reduce cabin space and the driver can still take over at any time. Also, I reckon over time, it will shrink in size and look less like the left-overs of a Nascar roll cage. Aesthetics notwithstanding, it does the self-driving job better and better, as the AI software learns.
And this of course means that while the future will undoubtedly have the futuristic cars we are all looking forward to, there will also be a whole lot of VW Beetles, Ford Cortinas and Datsun bakkies driving themselves around our future roads. Bring on the retro-fit flying cars kits please.