Schools Training

Auto Mechanics in the Robotic Future

8 APR 2013
Career Path : Automotive

There has been much hype over the past year about advances in automobile technology ushering in the self-driving car. Robotics have been steadily creeping into automobiles for decades now, and since automatic transmissions were introduced in the 1930’s, some have predicted the self-driving vehicle a mere eventuality. Now that driverless cars are legally permitted on California and Nevada roadways, the real ramifications of this technology and what it may mean to society are being seriously considered.


Computers and Cars

A browse through the archives of Popular Science magazine reveals that the twentieth century was full of “automatic” innovations, including a 1958 story about a car with “electric brains” using sound beams and gyroscopes to drive, steer and brake itself. The inventor would reportedly lounge in the back seat listening to records when he took it out on the road. We have had sensor-driven automatic braking systems for decades and there are already cars that can park themselves. Tires will soon be able to inflate themselves.


Research into self-driving technology has been secretly proceeding for years and though all the major car manufacturers are in on the action, the most visible thus far has been Google. The search engine giant passed the legal hurdles for road use after hundreds of thousands of hours’ testing through cities and traffic, using multiple sensors, artificial intelligence software, videos and information from Google Street View. A British team from Oxford University developed a driverless car that absorbs information during manual drives, then asks to take the wheel from an iPad on the dashboard when it recognizes its surroundings. Similar to standard cruise control technology, drivers can retrieve control by lightly tapping on the brakes.


The recent Consumer Electronics Show featured an impressive Audi “self-piloting” car navigating a parking garage. These vehicles use Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology to create a virtual map of the car’s surroundings using a rapidly rotating laser beam. Engineers have said they’re likely a decade away from production in order to miniaturize the trunkful of electronics and other sensors to maintain the luxury brand’s sense of elegance. There is also a long road ahead to persuade governments and the public that these cars are safe.


Driverless Issues

Safety is actually one of the primary selling features of self-driving vehicles. Proponents argue that robot cars will dramatically reduce road fatalities by using their sensors to reliably detect and avoid obstacles. Many unanswered questions remain. With machines in control, liability could shift from driver to manufacturer and there are lingering concerns about cyber-security.


What does this mean for today’s students in auto mechanic school? While some have speculated that there will be no more mechanics, taxis, insurance or even parking lots, the reality is that machines inevitably break down and driverless cars with their intricate electronic systems might be prone to problems that are complex to diagnose and repair. There will be a continued need for forward-looking auto mechanic training that integrates traditional repairs with the newest computer technology.



Visit the Canadian Automotive & Trucking Institute for more information about modern transportation operations training.