Self-driving vehicles have been in the media a lot recently. Technology has been improving at a dramatic rate and robots, AI and machine learning are beginning to take over many industries, but is it time to utilise it in the world of automobiles and put self-driving vehicles on the roads?
How does it work?
Most self-driving systems create and maintain an internal map of their surroundings, using an array of sensors. The software then processes these inputs, plots a route and sends instructions to the vehicle’s control centre, which includes acceleration, brakes and steering. Using hard-coded instructions, obstacle avoidance algorithms, object discrimination and predictive modelling allows the motorist to abide by traffic rules and navigate obstacles.
What are the benefits?
There are hundreds of thousands of motor crashes a year, some resulting in injury and some cases death. Almost all of these crashes are due to human error and could easily have been avoided. Self-driving vehicles could help take away a lot of the risks associated with human error and will mean that even when people are performing distracting tasks in their car, such as checking their phones or talking to their passengers, they are still safe, as their full attention is not needed. Other factors such as drinking, drugs and tiredness are all also eliminated, which again can cause a lot fewer accidents and can make the roads a safer place, not just for other drivers, but pedestrians too.
Using self-driving cars can allow for those who are unable to drive due to various reasons including disability, old age or eye problems, have the freedom to go where they please. Using public transport isn’t always possible for some people, especially those who live in areas where public transport isn’t readily available, so having these self-driving cars could do mean that these people can get around on their terms a lot easily
As a driverless car network will result in fewer traffic jams, we will also see less emissions and pollution being created from cars sat still with their engines on. Self-driving cars will also use fuel a lot more efficiently as it will be able to maintain more consistent speeds and brake and accelerate optimally. Having accessible, affordable vehicles that are also powered by more energy efficient and environmentally friendly systems could be a great way to help the environment.
What are the challenges?
The roads will need to be fixed and redesigned for driverless cars by placing sensors on lane dividers, and these sensors will need to be very advanced for these cars to be able to operate safety and efficiently. This could cost a very large amount of money and might not be something that the government will be able to fund or spare money for.
Pedestrians are one of the biggest problems with driverless cars as human behaviour can’t often be predicted. For example, if someone is on a push bike and loses control, a car will need to be able to react to the new danger quickly to avoid an accident.
Driverless cars need to be programmed to make life or death designs without human intervention, so what happens when your car has no choice but to decide between killing you or the pedestrian? Although these situations would be extremely rare, it is still an important question to ask, as it could have some very harmful consequences in the future.
How close are we?
Fully driverless tech is still at an advanced testing stage, but partially automated tech has been around for a couple of years now, such as the Citroen C4 Picasso MPV, which has a park assist system that can steer you into a parking space or in and out of tight gaps. As self-driving cars rely on a range of sensors to interact with the world around them and although some models such as ‘The Google Car’ say they have created a car that replaces the human eye with a camera, it still doesn’t account for extreme sunlight or other weather. So, although the technology seems to be advanced enough to create completely self-driving cars, we still have many issues to battle before they can hit the road and although there are many advantages we can benefit from, we need to ensure the problems are dealt with first!