Are Self-Driving Cars in Our Near Future, or Not?
In July 2020, Tesla’s Elon Musk announced that his company was quite close to having a fully autonomous vehicle available later this year. But what does he mean by that?
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Don’t we already have self-driving cars?
For starters, while the current manufacturers advertise their cars as having “autopilot” or “self-driving” features, these are not really considered autonomous, as it only partially automates and assists the driver. Tesla’s and other brands cars are considered “level 2 autonomous” currently. What are the current challenges that they face in order to make progress and develop fully autonomous vehicles?
Overcoming technological challenges and safety issues
What the industry calls “level 5 autonomy” is a technology that enables the vehicle to perform entirely without any human input, other than simply telling it where to go, relying on fast and reliable connectivity – 5G networks plays an important role in this. Such vehicles need to have an advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that should ‘teach’ the car about its surroundings, and make judgment calls on different scenarios, especially in an emergency.
Other challenges that manufacturers face are the safety and regulation standards. Self-driving cars would need to be constantly being updated and tested in order to maintain reliability and comply with the traffic codes. It also needs to adapt towards other human drivers that could be unpredictable on the road. An international standard would also have to be created in order to allowing imports and exports of these cars.
The biggest issue these cars would face, however, is social acceptability. There are countless videos and news about autopilot accidents and fails. It usually takes time for the general public to adapt to new technologies, especially those that profoundly affect their daily lives. People are not that comfortable with not being in control of their cars, even if it could theoretically perform better than most humans in regards of reaction time or better judgment. How long would it take for you to be confident enough to sit in a self-driving car, tell it where to go, lean back and carefreely watch a movie or take a nap?
In an ideal self-driving cars world, there would not be any need for traffic lights or signs. Cars will be constantly communicating with each other and with the central systems, knowing where, when and how to do their journey. The entire traffic system could be redesigned, with freeways having more lanes and higher speed limits. It would also mean a congestion reduction, as vehicles would always be taking the most efficient route every time. Crosswalks still need to exist, but in an emergency, would the car ultimately decide to save its passengers or the pedestrians?
There are still many of concerns and questions in the way before self-driving cars start hitting the road. But overcoming those problems also have a positive impact for society, as companies keep releasing newer and cheaper technologies that could be used in different aspects of our lives.