How do you steer this thing?" passengers might wonder as they step into the cartoon-like vehicle. It's a golf cart–sized car with seats and a dashboard that accelerates, turns and stops, but it has no steering wheel and no driver. The CyberCar uses the latest in computer technology to dispense with human navigation.
Unlike the automated cars currently ferrying passengers through airports and industrial areas in Amsterdam and [an error occurred while processing this directive] Hamburg, the CyberCar can function without following embedded road tracers: it follows a preprogrammed route, and a laser sweep pegged to its front end allows it to avoid or stop in front of obstacles. The town of Antibes on the French Riviera and the nearby principality of Monaco are considering buying their own fleets to taxi visitors around their cramped streets.
The CyberCar was developed by a consortium of 15 European research centers and spearheaded by Michel Parent, program director for research and development at France's INRIA, an automation and robotic research center. As you might imagine, Parent is a car buff who enjoys renovating vintage automobiles, such as the 1955 MG TF 1500 he refurbished while on a two-year assignment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We are not looking to eliminate cars, just reinvent them," Parent declares.
He says the latest electricity-powered model "is just a beginning." In the next three decades, he envisions roads populated by curvy, futuristic-looking CyberCars. Claims Parent, "soon you'll be able to order a [Cyber]Car on your cell phone."
The traveling public seems to be warming up to a driverless future. At a recent two-week-long test drive in Antibes, more than 3,000 people were able to take free rides in a CyberCar. Although some passengers might at first be nervous about cruising around town in a machine with no living navigator, Parent says, "in the end they will trust our technology." This gives new meaning to the term designated driver.