The driverless car has driven off the dusty old pages of science fiction books and is heading to showrooms and freeways, but the future is just around the corner and it could put an end eventually to human-controlled vehicles.
Humans have already been replaced over the years by computers and artificial intelligence in many aspects of our lives from factories and airports to grocery stores and hospitals.
Still not everyone is ready to embrace the idea of sharing the roads and freeways with robot-controlled cars. After all, there have been collisions reported involving these vehicles and one that resulted in a fatality.
The future, however, is rolling full steam ahead whether we like it or not. There are already several companies and many manufacturers testing the driverless car or developing technology to build them such as Google (Alphabet-owned Waymo), Tesla, Ford, BMW, Toyota, General Motors, Audi, Uber, Apple, Qualcomm, China-based Baidu and as well as software developers who will create the tools to build autonomous cars such as Argo Al in San Francisco and Palo Alto-based Aurora.
The US Secretary of Transportation told reporters at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto show he anticipates the driverless car will be in use worldwide within a decade or by 2025.
Industry experts say autonomous vehicles are expected to create a $77 billion market by 2035.
These are vehicles operate through a computer that is connected to a bank of high-tech cameras linked to ranging radar and light-based detection devices or sensors known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). These autonomous vehicles use this technology to perceive the world around them.
The driverless car is probably decades away from being in everyone’s driveway, but they will start to hit California roads in the next few years and may be available for purchase as soon as 2020.
Tesla is in the early stages of building driverless vehicles and they have already created and sold “semi-autonomous” vehicles that perform limited self-driving abilities using dozens of sensors that enable the vehicles to react quickly to changing driving conditions and avoid collisions.
Safety Concerns for Driverless Cars
One of the biggest questions is whether this advanced technology or artificial intelligence will actually save lives or is it dangerous?
Last year motorists traveled about 3.2 trillion miles in the United States. Proponents of automated vehicles say that while it’s not yet perfected and humans in the driver’s seat need to stay alert, the vehicles will actually save lives and reduce injuries by predicting crashes, applying the brakes.
No matter what your opinion about driverless vehicles, the facts about human driven cars are real with 35,092 people killed and 2.44 million injured in the United States in 2015. Overall there were 6.2 million accidents reported to police, but experts believe the actual number of collisions is two to 10 times higher.
Testing and Car Company Forecasts
Testing of driverless vehicles by Google over 2 million miles resulted in 25 collisions — most of them fender benders caused by human errors that didn’t require a police report.
Tesla has also been testing its semi-autonomous Autopilot system and the only known fatality took place in a Tesla Model S in Florida. A white truck changed lanes in front of the vehicle, the sensors didn’t detect it against the bright sky and the car crashed into the back of the truck. Tesla’s automated driver system was intended to work with an alert driver, but the driver in this situation put too much trust in the system and failed to intervene to avoid the crash.
Last month, Apple received a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to begin testing autonomous vehicles, but it’s highly unlikely they will actually build the cars. Industry speculation is they are developing the software to equip the vehicles.
Ford, an American car-making icon, expects to have 90 autonomous testing vehicles by the end of 2017 and to launch its first driverless car in 2021. The auto manufacturer invested $1 billion in Argo AI, an independent artificial intelligence company and plans to license its technology to other car companies.
Other auto maker forecasts for self-driving cars: Tesla expects its first fully-autonomous car to be ready by 2018, but government regulations may be a few years later so it may not be road-ready until 2020 or 2021; Volkswagen predicts its first autonomous car will hit the market in 2019; Audi America announced it is working on a driverless car it expects to sell to consumers by 2020; General Motors self-driving cars are slated for 2020 or sooner; Toyota plans to offer its first driverless car by 2020; and BMW is set to launch a self-driving electric vehicle in 2021 called BMW iNext.
Pros and Cons of Automated Vehicles
While you’ll still see a human behind the wheel in a driverless vehicle, some other aspects of life may significantly change. For example, industry experts believe there will be better traffic flow, less time spent on the road, better safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, more mobility for children, the elderly and disabled, lower insurance costs and ultimately less stress on people who will no longer have to navigate or worry about driving.
Many users of the driverless vehicle may not actually own them. By 2030, consumers may see them being used as a mobility service similar to the way Uber and other ride-sharing companies operate.
The negative impact of driverless cars goes beyond the risk of a collision to include the loss of jobs for commercially licensed drivers, liability disputes, government regulations, a legal framework, security concerns with hacking and terrorism, lack of privacy as well as the high cost of upgrading existing vehicles to autonomous ones.
While you prepare yourself for the coming of driverless cars, brace yourself for an even more futuristic vehicle that is also in the works. Mountain View, California-based startup Kitty Hawk has already begun testing a proto-type for a flying car. You can probably thank the cartoon character George Jetson for this one.
6 Fast Facts About Driverless Vehicles
- About 30 companies in California have permits to test automated vehicles on public roadways.
- Most auto manufacturers estimate the first fully automated vehicles (AV) will be ready for market between 2020 and 2025.
- KPMG survey of auto executives revealed that 59% of industry bosses believe that more than half of all car owners today will no longer want to own a car by 2025.
- Google began its research into driverless vehicles in 2009 and has traveled about 1.8 million miles testing its driverless vehicles and had about 25 accidents.
- The first autonomous cars surfaced in the 1980s at Carnegie Mellon University‘s Navlab conducted by the Robotics Institute at the School of Computer Science. The first car was made in 1986 using a Chevrolet panel van.
- The first driverless cross-country road trip in the U.S. was in 1995 by Carnegie Mellon University’s NavLab5.
SAE International Automated Vehicle Classifications:
- Level 0: Automated system issues warnings but has no vehicle control.
- Level 1 (”hands on”): Driver and automated system shares control over the vehicle. An example would be Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) where the driver controls steering and the automated system controls speed. Using Parking Assistance, steering is automated while speed is manual. The driver must be ready to retake full control at any time. Lane Keeping Assistance (LKA) Type II is a further example of level 1 self driving.
- Level 2 (”hands off”): The automated system takes full control of the vehicle (accelerating, braking, and steering). The driver must monitor the driving and be prepared to immediately intervene at any time if the automated system fails to respond properly. The shorthand ”hands off” is not meant to be taken literally. In fact, contact between hand and wheel is often mandatory during SAE 2 driving, to confirm that the driver is ready to intervene.
- Level 3 (”eyes off”): The driver can safely turn their attention away from the driving tasks, i.e. the driver can do texting or watch a movie. The vehicle will handle situations that call for an immediate response, like emergency braking. The driver must still be prepared to intervene within some limited time, specified by the manufacturer, when called upon by the vehicle to do so.
- Level 4 (”mind off”): As level 3, but no driver attention is ever required for safety, i.e. the driver may safely go to sleep or leave the driver’s seat. Self driving is supported only in limited areas (geofenced) or under special circumstances, like traffic jams. Outside of these areas or circumstances, the vehicle must be able to safely abort the trip, i.e. park the car, if the driver does not retake control.
- Level 5 (”wheel optional”): No human intervention is required. An example would be a robot taxi.
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