You have probably heard a little about the development of self-driving cars. Over the last five years, autonomous vehicles have been a major talking point among engineers, tech experts, and scientists. It is because their potential is enormous. Just imagine if our roads were piloted not by human drivers, with their impatience and distractions, but by cool, calm, and collected machines.
Autonomous cars would make our lives easier in a hundred different ways. There would be fewer traffic jams, road rage incidents would become obsolete, and commuting would be faster and more efficient. However, it is safety which is the primary justification for their development. Countless studies have proved that self-driving cars have the potential to reduce road collisions by up to 90%.
So, it is clear that autonomous vehicles have a lot to offer. The question is, where do you – the human being – fit into the equation?
The Disappearing Driver
For many years, companies like Google, Toyota, Volvo, and Ford have been engaged in a kind of arms race to be the first to put an autonomous car on the road. It is Google which has made the biggest (and most public) strides because it has completed several very successful trials. On the other hand, progress has been held back somewhat by a couple of high-profile collisions.
Crucially, it is almost never the vehicle itself or the autonomous driving system which causes the crash. The culprit is the human element. Up until recently, self-driving cars have featured partially autonomous operating systems (Level 3). It means that the vehicle can be in full control of driving, but the human inside it must remain observant in case of ambiguous scenarios. In other words, if the car does not know what to do, it gives back control. Interested in taking a machine learning course?
Finding New Solutions
Contrary to earlier thinking, this makes driving more dangerous. Even when told to stay observant, human beings are easily distracted. When in an autonomous vehicle, they play with their smartphones, plug into handheld gaming consoles, and read newspapers. After all, what is the use of a self-driving car, if you cannot relax and let it worry on your behalf? The problem is that a quick transfer of control becomes a tricky task.
If you were watching a movie and the car was driving itself, you would need at least 5-10 seconds to notice that the car was urging you to take the wheel. The process is not instant, and this is plenty of time for a crash to occur. It is why many manufacturers, including Google, are now committed to developing fully autonomous vehicles (Level Five). If successful, they would require absolutely no form of human intervention, even for emergency man-oeuvres.
It is not an easy feat, and it will be some time before we see cars like this on our roads. However, most experts agree that it is entirely possible. In fact, Toyota is fueling rumors about a possible release in 2020. It would be a Level 4 vehicle, which isn’t full autonomy, but it is tantalizingly close.