In most Sci-Fi movies, we see cars that run for hundreds of miles without any stop at the gas station, cars with automated directions and even automated parking.
We may attribute self-driving cars to being all about electrification but in reality, it is all about automation.
Imagine having a car that knows where your destination is, and drives without you manipulating any of its parts, it makes you become the passenger rather than the driver.
The idea of self-driving cars dates back to about 8 decades ago at a GM’s 1939 exhibit, where Norman Bel Geddes created the first self-driving car, which was an electric vehicle powered by radio-controlled electromagnetic fields generated with magnetized metal spikes embedded in the roadway.
The new evolution of self-driving cars will be incorporated with AI (Artificial Intelligence) making them AI-enabled self-driving cars.
Although the knowledge of Artificial Intelligence is well understood, its purpose has not been utilised commercially until recent times.
In the coming years, self-driving cars will be fully on the road with many benefits such as safety, efficiency, fewer parking problems and reduced cost of running.
Development of Self-Driving Cars
Advances in technology show us a shift from the usual modes of transportation to new and reinvented solutions even with the potential for increased effectiveness and sustainability.
According to the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), there are six levels of self-driving cars ranging from 0 to 5.
Level 0 means there’s no autonomy at all and with this, a human driver will be responsible for all driving.
In Level 1, there are some driver assistance features such as lane-keeping assistance or adaptive cruise control.
Level 2 is partial automation, here, the car can combine two or more automated tasks such as steering and accelerating at once with the driver being the primary controller.
Level 3 is conditional automation and at this level, the car is capable of driving from one point to another without human intervention but not in critical conditions as the driver will be needed to intervene in such conditions.
Level 4 is high automation. Here, the vehicle is considered fully autonomous in most driving conditions, but not in certain weather conditions.
Level 5 is full automation in all conditions and this is the future of self-driving cars as they can fully operate independently with no human interference.
Tesla 2022 confirmed the production of self-driving robot cars which will run on full automation with no pedals and no steering wheels and will be going into full production mode by 2024.
Companies such as Google, and Apple have been working on developing good automated cars which will include various sensors that will enable the vehicles to take note of their surroundings.
Speculations have been gathered that these cars will have software and sensor technologies that would allow them to make independent decisions and would involve zero human involvement.
LIDAR, also known as Light Detection and Ranging which uses laser wave pulses to generate a 3D rendering of the car environment is one of the sensor technologies. LIDAR also works in line with GPS and computer vision and will help decipher data using machine learning. This will make data to be processed offline after it is sent to the cloud.
Benefits (Pros) of Self-Driving Cars
Compared to manual cars, self-driving cars are environment-friendly and will reduce road congestion by using AI-enabled communication which will prevent accidents and traffic problems on the road.
The biggest benefit is the prevention of traffic accidents, this is because about 90% of road accidents are due to human errors, poor decision-making between humans and distractions.
Other benefits would be in terms of mobility, especially for the aged and disabled who may not be able to operate a manual vehicle.
Also, these cars are cost-effective, and with a huge reduction in the costs of road accidents, there will be a reduced burden on the healthcare system, reduced fuel spending and making transportation efficiency.
All these contribute to major cost savings in society.
Cons of Self-Driving Cars
A potential problem to be faced with self-driving cars is the issue of hacking, which will likely affect the car’s operating system.
One of the major goals of automated cars is the ability to communicate with itself and with other cars, and when the system is hacked, it will affect the overall performance and also bring about security issues.
The labour market has the potential of being affected as there will be no need for human drivers thereby resulting in massive job losses.
Truck drivers, Uber drivers, and generally all bus drivers would have no option but to leave the auto industry as they are being replaced with robotic automated cars.
There is also a high cost of purchasing these cars as the various parts such as the software used in production are way too pricey.
There is also a risk of potential machine error which should be put into consideration as one of the cons of self-driving cars. This is because if any software or the vehicle part fails, there is a high risk that the owner of the car or the likely passenger would be in danger.
The Future of Transportation with Self-Driving Cars
The GM-owned Cruise is on its way to pushing the limits of self-driving by becoming the first company to operate a fully autonomous robot taxi service in San Francisco.
Although the self-driving Chevy Bolts braked abruptly in a series of crashes, causing rear-end collisions, and recorded about two injuries in three collisions, it’s still a work in progress.
An incident where a self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian in Arizona, showed the limitations associated with self-driving cars.
These cases have impacted the automated car industry enormously as various pieces of research have gone into explaining why the future of self-driving cars seems bleak.
Since human error is the major cause of collision and accidents in human-driven cars, one may wonder who would be responsible when a self-driving car is involved in a collision. Would it be the self-driving car, the manufacturer, or the passenger who used the car?
To make the future of self-driving cars bright, various changes and more work have to be done in its regulations and also its insurance policies.
More road lanes and specially designated lanes should be put in place as this does not mean the era of traditional cars will be ended completely.
In totality, self-driving cars will most likely be on our roads at some point and will help reduce car accidents as well as improve the quality of life for everyone.
It is obvious that self-driving cars presents many opportunities and promises lots of advantage in the future, but for us to truly take advantage and prepare for a future, everyone in the various industrial sector needs to step up and put their heads together to pursue and achieve a solution.