Self Driving Cars: How Far Along Are We?
EVs and Autonomous Vehicles (or, self-driving cars if you prefer) have been big news over the last couple of years. Many consider them to be the future of transportation. Here in the US, self-driving cars have already been approved for use in several states, with some of them not requiring a “safety driver” to be in there either. Over in the UK, there are predictions that self-driving cars could be allowed on UK motorways this year. So how do self-driving cars work? And are they a safer option than traditional driving?
What are self-driving cars?
Self-driving vehicles are set to be the future of how we get from A to B. As a passenger, you’ll simply be able to hop into your vehicle, type in your destination, or better yet just say it, and let the car do the rest for you. This will give you the freedom to relax, chat with other passengers without distraction, watch a movie, or even take a nap. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Especially for long road trips cross country.
But how exactly is this possible?
Self-driving cars are reliant on a myriad of tech to help them function correctly. This includes complex algorithms, sensors, AI/machine learning elements, and powerful processors – and that’s just scratching the surface.
We’re no strangers to sensors in our cars. If you drive a newer model vehicle, you’ll have noticed that small features have popped up over the last few years to assist with our driving. Car proximity sensors that slow your vehicle down if you’re too close to the car in front, or alarms/lighting on your wing mirror that indicate an oncoming vehicle in your blind spot when switching lanes.
Many of us also have parking sensors and cameras to help avoid fender benders. Some of which provide a birdseye view of our vehicle using many sensors that work together to create a 360-degree image of our location.
The sensor tech in self-driving vehicles, however, takes things to a new level, with cameras, radar and lasers all working in sync to be our eyes on the road.
The AI/machine learning element of self-driving cars is particularly interesting because AI is essentially what’s replacing a lot of the human element of driving. When we discuss self-driving cars and their artificial intelligence, moral dilemmas are always in question.
As the AI in a self-driving car learns more, it’ll become capable of processing hundreds of data points about potential risks and how likely they are at any given point. It’ll also be able to make instantaneous decisions faster than humans. If an accident were imminent, the car would be able to make a decision based on what statistically would be the best reaction… but would this be the best moral decision?
For example, what should the car do if an accident is inevitable? Crash into a barrier, that puts the passenger’s lives at risk? Or, crash into pedestrians to save the lives of the passengers? Scientists at MIT have asked this very question and use studies like this to program more “human”, ethical AI systems and decision making.
The future of self-driving cars
Though self-driving cars are already on the road in some capacity, the technology is still in its infancy and there are still a lot of questions yet to be answered. Additionally, car manufacturers have been somewhat overambitious with their thoughts on where the self-drive market would be by 2021. We’re nowhere near the level of autonomy that former CEO of Ford Motors, Mark Field predicted we’d be at by now.
With that said, autonomous vehicles are certainly a big step forward. They can make roads dramatically safer if they are able to do what car makers claim. What do you think about the future of autonomous driving?