ATLANTA – Driverless cars may seem like an idea straight out of The Jetsons, but the vehicle traveling right next to you could be an autonomous vehicle.
In fact, Atlanta’s North Avenue will soon be on the cutting edge of the technology that will allow you to take a ride in one of the many rolling computers on the road today.
Brian Mulligan, President of Applied Information, owns one of 100,000 Teslas on the road today with self-driving capabilities. Mulligan is working with Renew Atlanta’s Smart Corridor program that will bring changes to North Avenue, and allow rides in driverless vehicles this fall.
Mulligan took Commuter Dude Jerry Carnes on a driverless ride along I-75. Once on the interstate, Mulligan goes into autonomous mode, and the Tesla takes over.
“Here's someone pulled in front of us. Did you see it brake?” says Mulligan of the car.
Cameras, radar, and sensors guide the vehicle along I-75 while avoiding the cars around it. Brian never leaves the driver's seat. The car's computer system helps avoid human error Brian is there behind the wheel to override computer error if necessary.
“I'm the pilot and it is the co-pilot,” says Muligan. “It's handling the wheels and pedals, and I'm in situational control.”
The driver has to engage with the vehicle at all times. Alarms sound if Mulligan fails to touch the steering while on occasion while it’s in driverless mode.
Soon, a half-dozen vehicles similar to Mulligan’s will be available for a test ride along Atlanta's North Avenue. The Smart Corridor project will arm North Avenue with, among other things, high tech traffic lights that can communicate with one another. Faye DiMassimo, the head of the city's Renew Atlanta program, calls the driverless vehicle aspect an opportunity for believers and doubters.
“Just to begin to socialize that idea, let people see how it operates, ask questions and get comfortable with how technology is improving our lives,” says DiMassimo
Brian Mulligan had to log about a thousand miles before he was comfortable behind the wheel while his car did the driving. While it’s currently programmed to operate best on the interstate, a software update in the coming weeks will allow it to travel more effectively in autonomous mode on corridors like North Avenue.