Have you been following the latest news on self-driving cars? There have been updates as of late on the newest automobile technology, automated vehicles.
There has been a lot of buzz on the topic as the technology becomes further developed and the “how will this work” debate continues.
We compiled some information for you on what a self-driving car is and how it is anticipated to work.
How Does a Self-Driving Car Work?
Essentially, automated vehicles are cars that don’t need human drivers. Current motor vehicles require a driver; automated vehicles would drive us around rather than have us drive them.
This system takes place using a series of GPS, lasers, processors and software. A destination is programmed into the system and the vehicles computes point A to B and drives the passenger there.
Software systems installed into automated vehicles require an ability to deeply interpret environmental factors; to recognize and respond to current traffic infrastructure, like roundabouts, underpasses, pedestrian crossing, speed bumps and more.
What are the Perceived Benefits?
Many benefits of this technology have been argued. They would include:
- Less traffic accidents caused by human error: people often drive unsafely, too fast, too slow, distracted, tired, or under the influence of substances. Automated vehicles would eliminate the human risk factor associated with driving, decreasing collision.
- Commuting could be used as time to read, meditate, sleep, or work.
- People currently unable to drive would have a new transportation option, for example elderly, or disabled persons.
- “If only 10 percent of cars and trucks on the road were self-driving, they could reduce traffic deaths by 1,000 per year and produce nearly $38 billion in economic and other savings,” said the study by the Eno Center for Transportation, a foundation dedicated to improving transportation.
- “If 90 percent of vehicles were self-driving, as many as 21,700 lives per year could be saved, and economic and other benefits could reach a staggering $447 billion,” said the same study.
- “Platooning” would take place. This would happen when a mass amount of self-driving cars are on the road together; they would collect near each other, yet at a safe distance apart and move in a pod, decreasing stop and go traffic, and reducing fuel-burning. This would make traffic patterns smoother and decrease drive times.
Perceived Safety Implications and Objections
Just as there are perceived benefits of this new technology, there have also been perceived obstacles of use and adaptation.
Safety implications and objections currently being discussed include:
- Integrating the new technology with current infrastructure will take some time, delaying release dates.
- Ethical questions are involved, such as how do you program a vehicle to respond in the event of two unfavourable circumstances. Say for example, “Should an automated car drive its passengers off a cliff to avoid crashing into a peloton of cyclists on a mountain road? Working out the laws that apply to automated vehicles adds further complications,” states Sven Beiker, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University.
- Safety standards for manufacturing will play a part in how safe the vehicles will be. A reduction of accidents caused by human error may be replaced by computer error if the manufacturing process isn’t fail-safe.
Companies Working on Technology
Many see automated vehicles as the future of the automotive industry. At this time many automotive manufacturers are in various stages of research and development.
Companies include Ford, General Motors and Nissan, which are rumoured to be the furthest along. It has been reported that Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo have also begun testing driverless systems.
Google’s self-driving cars have seen well over 600,000 km of drive time on California public roads.
When Experts Think it Will be Available
Companies are estimating the technology to be available as early at 2020. The delay is not necessarily in the development of the technology itself, but in the current infrastructure and consumer behaviour.
For vehicles to be fully automated, vehicles on the road would have to be connected to one another, exchanging information about speed, proximity, direction etc.
As the self-driving car technology continues to be developed it will likely be slowly integrated. Sven Beiker says “the first self-driving car is more likely to be a geeky little mobility pod on the roads around a shopping mall than an automated supercar cruising along the freeway. As the problems of existing traffic, laws, and infrastructure are solved, those pods might grow in size, functionality, and speed. They could graduate to surface roads and dedicated highway lanes. Only after that could we get fully automated personal vehicles,” he explains.
California has requested that licensing protocol is prepared by 2015. Three states, California, Florida and Nevada, have passed laws to regulate the licensing and operations of self-driving cars.
Some of the technology that would be incorporated in automated cars is already available in vehicles on the market: examples are adaptive cruise control, adjusting cruise control speed to adjust with traffic, parking assistance systems, showing drivers what is behind them and warning drivers with a beeping alarm when they are getting close to backing into something.
What Do You Think?
Would you put your trust in a self-driving car? Would you buy one if it was on the market today?
For more information check out Reddit’s compilation on self-driving cars. http://www.reddit.com/r/SelfDrivingCars/