Driverless Cars | Are Self-Driving Cars Finally Ready for Consumers?
From brick like phones to touch screens; from chest sized televisions to paper thin LCDs; the last two decades have been a whirlwind of mega advancements. The latest one, however, trumps everything. Ever felt like the commute back home was too cumbersome and you’d rather be asleep behind the wheel than drive all the way to home? Good news, driverless cars are here, and they are very real. But are they every bit as precise and futuristic?
What is a Driverless Cars?
As per Wikipedia, An autonomous car (also known as a driverless car, self driving car, robotic car) is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. It uses a variety of techniques to detect their surroundings, such as radar, laser light, GPS, odometry, and computer vision. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage.
Before we dive into the specifics, let us take a quick recap of what the core technology behind this is. The answer is simple: Artificial Intelligence but the algorithms are complex. Self Driving cars use Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) algorithms, which takes in data from various sensors and correlates it with the current location and offline maps. The system is not accurate and uses a fair bit of approximation yet Google has succeeded in developing a hybrid system of SLAM which can take into account other dynamic objects as well. In robotic mapping, Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) is the computational problem of constructing or updating a map of an unknown environment while simultaneously keeping track of an agent’s location within it. There are a number of other companies which are developing the technology further like Udacity, Uber, Tesla and Google.
Google has even dedicated a separate company within Alphabet for this project. Waymo is an autonomous car development company spun out of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., in December 2016. It then took over the self-driving car project which Google had begun in 2009. Alphabet describes Waymo as “a self-driving tech company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.”
Levels of Autonomous Car
As per classification system based on six different levels (ranging from none to fully automated systems) was published in 2014 by SAE International, an automotive standardization body, as J3016, Taxonomy, and Definitions for Terms Related to On-Road Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems
As with every landmark technology, this one too has faced apprehensions. People are generally cynical about it since there is an issue of safety. A lot of people are reluctant to trust cars that drive themselves. There are also questions about the sensors not working always, and that can be a major problem on those unmarked or under construction roads. Also, one of the world’s thriving professions: cab driving, will be at risk in the future since Uber has already begun testing self driving cabs.
Benefits of Driverless Cars
The upsides are plenty, however. A unique aspect of driverless cars would be the reduction in traffic. This is because if the entire world shifts to driverless cars, the cars will be much more tightly spaced and efficient, so inaccuracies like the fluctuating distance between cars and delayed reaction time of the human brain will not be a problem. Also, since the cars will go at a nearly constant speed without much braking, this will save fuel and hence a greener environment. And then there is the most important advantage which is the reduction in road accidents. It has been reported that nearly 80 percent of all road accidents are because of human error and driverless cars will eliminate that percentage entirely. We found a great informative video by FIA. Check out below.
Future of Self Driving Cars
Like said earlier, there are still a number of controversial aspects of driverless cars. The number one concern is the legality of it. There are currently very few laws building around this technology, and those which exist are a blatant contradiction of one another. There is a need of setting up firm laws relating to driverless cars. Another concern is the price which currently is a lot for the average customer. For instance, the most fundamental of Tesla’s model with autonomous capabilities can set you back at $35,000 which is not exactly affordable for everyone. This is a multi-billion dollar market which needs more research to bring it down to the level of the common man. And then there is the debate of safety versus convenience. It always boils down to safety first, and as stated before, this is one of the main reasons why people are reticent towards this technology. People are obviously not comfortable in a driverless taxi, and it may take the general public a number of years before accepting this in their ranks. In other words, autonomous cars are the way forward but not just right now.
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When will autonomous cars be available?
By Circa 2025, you may get your own level 5 autonomous car. Most of the initial models will be focussed on public transport rather a personal vehicle. Also, affordability would be a challenge initially, and it would take at least 3 years to bring everything on mass scale level. Our new generation will never need to learn driving skills. Till the time they attain their driving age, driving would be banned, and only autonomous cars would be available.
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