Self-driving cars were once a fantasy reserved for sci-fi movies like Back to the Future, but as technology advances they come closer and closer to becoming a reality. Major automobile manufacturers like Tesla Inc. and General Motors are planning on mass-producing self-driving cars within the next few years.
Leading market research firms predict that nearly 10 million cars with self-driving features will be on the road by 2020 with fully autonomous vehicles coming a few years later. Many manufacturers and companies in the auto industry believe that self-driving cars will help to make our roads and our passengers as safe as they have ever been.
How do they work?
Vehicles with self-driving features use a combination of sophisticated sensors and software technology to operate. Utilizing light detection cameras and radar technology, autonomous cars have a 360-degree view and can detect how far objects are and the speed they are moving. The car’s computer system can use “smart” object iscrimination features to determine what exactly the vehicle is looking at. This will help the vehicle follow road signs and navigate around obstacles. The computer system will then drive by commanding the brakes, accelerator and the steering wheel on the vehicle. Countless industry experts predict that this self-driving technology will revolutionize transportation and quickly become the new industry standard.
Benefits of Self-Driving Cars
Most innovators and supporters of self-driving cars share a goal of making roads safer for all drivers and passengers. According to numerous studies, almost 90 percent of road accidents are caused by human error. While they aren’t perfect, self-driving cars can greatly reduce the amount accidents on the road by minimizing the need for human involvement in driving. The computers in autonomous cars are able to make decisions in milliseconds in situations where a human driver might freeze up. Furthermore, dangerous driving habits such as speeding or drunk driving will see a sharp decline with the rise of self-driving cars.
Self-driving technology also provides more opportunities for mobility to individuals who are unable to drive themselves, such as the elderly or people with disabilities. Regular tasks like grocery shopping and going to the doctor are made more accessible with the help of this technology. Allowing these previously limited individuals to be mobile offers them the ability to be self-sufficient when they need to drive to complete their daily tasks.
Another potential benefit comes from ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft. If these companies utilize their services to provide autonomous vehicles on demand, it can shake up the way people commute on a daily basis. Some experts predict that car ownership will plunge, especially in big cities, if commuters can just order a self-driving car to get them where they need to go. A fleet of autonomous cars can also work to reduce the need for parking space in major cities in the future, which is a major concern around the world.
Roadblocks for the Future of Autonomous Vehicles
Although progress on self-driving vehicles has made great strides in recent years, there are still roadblocks that are slowing down progress. A variety of safety and legislative issues still need to be ironed out before autonomous vehicles can be mass produced and sold commercially. Some of the most prevalent issues are detailed below.
While legislation for self-driving cars has been slow-moving on a federal level, many states and counties are already implementing their own laws. States including California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada currently allow for autonomous vehicles to be tested. Many lawmakers that support self-driving cars are proposing for limited testing of these vehicles on public roads, as long as automakers meet standards showing that their cars are safer than those driven by humans.
Allowing each state or county to set their own regulations on self-driving vehicle can quickly become problematic if every location has different rules and safety standards. Some states may have stricter rules and limitations on autonomous vehicles than others. Regulations made on the federal level will have nationwide uniformity, allowing the rollout of self-driving cars to go more smoothly across the country.
The overall safety of autonomous vehicles is the primary concern for a lot of people. Motorists and lawmakers are wary about the future of self-driving cars due to cybersecurity and hacking concerns or questions on how they will react in dangerous situations. With most of the vehicle’s systems being run by computers, protection from potential hacks remains a major concern. Safety measures must be implemented to ensure that drivers and their vehicles are protected with strong cyber security.
In addition, a majority of testing for autonomous cars has taken place in sunny states with good weather year-round. Running a self-driving car in a state with harsher winter conditions, including snow and fog, comes with a whole new set of safety concerns. As of now, many autonomous vehicles either pull over or put control back into the driver’s hand when driving conditions are dangerous. Manufacturers must figure out how to effectively handle dangerous driving conditions before self-driving cars are available everywhere.