For decades, fascinating advancement in auto technology meant an improvement in the realm of mechanical engineering that revolved around making vehicles faster, lighter, safer, more comfortable, and more aerodynamic.
However, Elon Musk’s Tesla changed the game by introducing a ‘ludicrous’ car of the future in the present.
While Tesla’s electric-powered cars made for a profound shift in the mode of propulsion, their most recent advancement to transform the transportation system includes a driverless Autopilot system.
However, Tesla is not the only player in this field. Waymo, Google’s spin-off company that emerged from the tech giant’s self-driving car project, recently started a commercial autonomous car service in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.
Tech startups and businesses aside, big-league auto players such as BMW, Lexus, Mercedes Benz, Audi, Toyota, Uber, General Motors, to name a few, are all dipping their toes into making autonomous cars a commercial reality.
And they’re right to do so. After all, driverless tech is growing at a remarkable pace of 16 percent a year and is expected to be worth £900 billion globally by 2025!
What Are Self-Driving Cars or Autonomous Cars?
According to Techopeida:
Autonomous cars, also known as self-driving vehicles or driverless cars, are cars or trucks that do not require human input or driver to take control of the vehicle in order to operate them safely.
Autonomous cars include ultra-high-end technology that combines proximity sensors and smart AI-powered software to safely control, navigate, and drive the vehicle without requiring a human to do anything.
Now, the concept of a vehicle safely driving or moving by itself has been a reality for quite some time.
Planes have autopilot systems that take complete control from the human pilot to fly at set altitudes and even land on their own.
Similarly, cars have radar guided-cruise control and semi-autonomous modes where the car senses the distance from the car in front of it and automatically slows down or speeds up whilst observing the white lines on motorways to observe lane discipline.
Many luxury cars today are equipped with the auto park to assist where the car detects the parking spot and takes control from the driver to park itself. All this without a human input!
However, building fully autonomous cars is an upheaving challenge for automakers considering the elements of safety and sheer technological marvel required to achieve this feat.
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Most regular cars today come packed with automatic parking assist, radar cruise control, driver drowsing alert, and sensors that control vehicle speeds based on geo and locations.
In fact, Tesla’s autopilot system has been quite a talking point in the auto industry.
However, it’s been a bitter-sweet accomplishment for Elon Musk’s EV brand as there have been several accidents reported where the autopilot system was active.
Although the idea of a car driving itself is straight from a futuristic movie, the reality is that self-driving cars aren’t that far off. And it’s safe to say that self-driving cars might just be the future of cars and mobility.
To give you deeper insight on the topic, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of pros and cons surrounding the implementation of self-driving cars and driverless technology.
How Do Autonomous Car Work?
Technology is the main driver of autonomous cars.
Typically speaking, sensors mounted around the car monitor the position of vehicles nearby while cameras detect road signs, white line lane separators, traffic lights, pedestrians, and other obstacles.
However, the functioning of fully autonomous cars or self-driving cars is possible today due to the existence of the following technologies:
Sensors make autonomous cars a reality.
Autonomous cars use Lidar sensors and other IoT sensors for blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, radar, camera, and ultrasonic inputs.
This enables autonomous cars capable of navigating and perceiving things without the requirement of human input or control.
Lidar sensors or “Light detection and ranging” devices are dotted around the car to detect the edges of roads and to identify lane markings.
This is done by bouncing high-frequency pulses of light off the car’s surroundings.
Lidar is also used to alert the car from other cars, pedestrians, nearby objects, and bicyclists.
Ultrasonic sensors fitted in the wheels help the car to detect the precise position of the car in relation to the curb or any other vehicles to enable automatic parking.
2. Software and Computing
Autonomous cars heavily rely on cloud computing to process vital information such as traffic data, maps, the position of adjacent cars, pedestrians and objects, weather, and road conditions among other factors.
This helps the underlying brain of the car, the AI software to learn along the way as it monitors surroundings better.
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This nifty cloud computing software empowers the car to be driven without the need of a human driver as the software constantly learns and makes informed decisions based on the input it picks up in real time.
This means, theoretically, autonomous cars must be connected to the internet at all times.
3. Data Learning and Algorithms
The sensors and software come together in a majestic alliance to make autonomous cars a possibility.
However, as a result of so much tech, the car generates a chunk of valuable data that needs to be analyzed for better implementation and to improve road safety.
Data learning and control algorithms make for a complex part of autonomous cars as they determine the next step of improvement.
Any mistake in gathering and learning data can result in fatal accidents or unparalleled success.
Most autonomous cars are powered with artificial intelligence software that learns, compare, and constantly track surroundings.
This makes the car better equipped with tricky situations and get a sense of the world outside. And all this happens in real time or at least it’s supposed to.
Google and Tesla Lead The Way For Autonomous Cars
Google’s Self Driving Technology
Google has been exploring and implementing self-driving technology since quite a while now.
In fact, their ideology of ‘a new way forward in mobility’ is what gave birth to Waymo.
Waymo has begun relying on machine learning systems that learn the behavior of various external factors by persistently and seamlessly analyzing vast amounts of data collected by the LIDAR sensors.
This data is then used to unravel the country’s traffic conditions and roadways in order to drive the car without any human control.
In fact, Waymo is using a system that studies hundreds and thousands of photos of people walking or running across or near roads to identify pedestrian intensity and behavior.
A central (backend) computer collates all this data and analyses all the data collected from the various sensors to finally enable the car to steer, accelerate, and brake depending on where it is, what condition it is, and what surrounds it.
Pros of Self-Driving Cars
- Self-driving cars will serve a multitude of purposes
Since driverless technology doesn’t necessarily require a driver, cars could double up as mini leisure rooms.
Also, this will make for more useable space inside the vehicle and passengers can sit in a comfortable manner.
- Less distraction for drivers
Using infotainment systems, consuming entertainment such as games, movies, etc. could be done without any peril in terms of distraction to the driver.
- Follow traffic rules
Human drivers tend to bend or break traffic rules. They take risks, break traffic signals or park in accident-prone spots, over speed, or talk on the phone while driving.
On the hand, self-driving cars will prevent taking risks or unnecessarily violate traffic rules.
- Better safety
Many road accidents and car crashes in the US are attributed to driver error.
With driverless technology powering self-driving cars, there would be fewer errors and fewer mistakes.
The software, smart artificial intelligence systems, and LiDAR sensors that make autonomous cars a reality are hardwired to follow traffic rules to the T.
This means even drivers under the influence of intoxicants won’t be the cause of accidents. This way, driverless technology will ensure safer road conditions.
- Better road journey
For people who use cars for long hauls and travelling extensively, driverless cars will make for a comfortable journey.
Overnight journeys will be more comfortable as the occupants can sleep and rest while being on the move.
- Better traffic management
With self-driving cars, traffic can be better coordinated to provide a seamless commute experience devoid of bottlenecks and traffic jams during busy hours.
This will result in significantly lower commute times.
Traffic management will drastically improve, especially with the rise of IoT based smart cities since the software for self-driving cars can be centrally updated to provide a superb commute experience.
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- A convenient way of commuting
Driverless cars will eliminate drivers from experiencing fatigue. And with integrated maps guiding the car as a default mechanism, getting lost or getting stuck in the wrong location will be a thing of the past.
- Better technology means more advantages
Driverless tech largely comprises of sensors and AI software systems that can perceive road conditions, weather conditions, and the overall environment in a more efficient and swift manner than humans can.
This includes seeing farther ahead in conditions of poor visibility and detecting smaller obstacles that may go unnoticed by humans.
Additionally, since several cameras are required to aid the propulsion system, self-driving cars will be able to judge blind spots with ease.
This will make them more aware and vigilant than a human driver.
Furthermore, highway speed limits could be increased, given the higher standards of safety. This will significantly reduce journey times.
- Enhanced convenience
Any difficulty in maneuvering or parking will be eliminated since the car will be capable of handling complicated moves with ease.
This will make commuting less stressful and the car could even drop you off and then go park itself!
People who face difficulties in driving such as old people, differently-abled people, and children will also have the chance to experience their own independence and the freedom of solo car travel.
Furthermore, the need for a driving license or driving tests will be eliminated.
- Insurance benefits
Higher safety standards and fewer associated risks would reduce insurance premiums for car owners.
- Fuel to cost advantage
In all probability, self-driving cars will be powered by electricity or hydrogen or some alternate form of propulsion technology.
This means major savings when it comes to fuel costs.
- Environmental benefits
Lesser or no fuel consumption means greater efficiency which in-turn means fewer carbon emissions and fewer pollution levels.
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Cons of Self-Driving Cars
- The higher cost of acquisition
Driverless technology is expensive. This makes self-driving cars an expensive affair and unaffordable for most people.
Autonomous cars are slated to cost over $100,000!
- Loss of jobs
The introduction of driverless technology will result in several jobs that will be lost.
Truck drivers, taxi drivers, Uber, and other delivery people will be gravely impacted.
- Too much dependency on tech
Self-driving cars heavily rely on a combination of hardware and software to make autonomous propulsion a possibility.
Even a minor malfunction, just a minor glitch, will cause a colossal failure and result in a major accident.
Autonomous cars are famous for having trouble navigating around pedestrians.
Driverless technology systems have trouble comprehending and determining human intention on the roads.
This dependency on technology can boomerang in terms of unsafe deployments and increased accidents.
- Commuting issues
Since driverless cars obey traffic rules and regulations, there’s a higher chance of traffic being slower and less organic.
This is primarily because driverless tech is not fully capable of improvising or making human-like decisions and judgment calls.
Self-driving cars are said to move about like how student drivers drive. They are slow and timid in terms of maneuverability.
This makes them unsafe and frustrating on a road shared with regular cars operated by human drivers.
- Legal and ethical issues
Driverless technology raises big questions when it comes to legal and ethical aspects.
For instance, if a driverless car crashes, who’s to be blamed? Is it the manufacturer’s fault or the owner’s fault?
How will the police deal with driverless vehicles? What are they supposed to do in case of accidents?
Self-driving cars will definitely spark debates and issues about legal, ethical, and financial accountability.
- Privacy issues
Driverless technology heavily depends on self-learning techniques that revolve around the collection of location-based data and other sensitive information which could create major security and privacy concerns.
Heavy reliance on software and computer systems to control autonomous cars gives hackers a chance to get into any vehicle’s software and controlling its operation.
This is a major security concern.
- Maintenance issues
Vehicle maintenance will be a matter of grave concern since the car is driving itself.
All self-driving cars will have to be maintained on regular intervals and under standard governmental guidance or law.
This process will ensure that every driverless car is mechanically fit and able.
- Miscellaneous restrictions
Autonomous vehicles find it challenging to operate in certain types of weather conditions such as heavy rains.
Rain and snow affect the various LIDAR sensors and cameras that help the car learn about its surrounding environment.
Other limitations include difficulty in reading road signs, registering obstacles such as potholes, speedbumps, and any other new changes to the road conditions.
Driverless cars will render humans as unnecessary. This means human drivers will tend to lose their experience and skills to drive well under various road conditions.
Should humans need to drive again, their lack of proficiency will restrict them from doing so.
Overall, the road and traffic system will need new rules and infrastructure to accommodate self-driving cars.
Additions of better street lighting, broader shoulders, a run-off area, etc. would need to be included too.
AI-powered vehicles although efficient, cannot replicate human behavior such as negotiating heavy traffic, swerving around jaywalkers, understanding hand signals, and other such common driving practices that humans are accustomed to.
Tesla’s Autopilot Technology
As effective and nifty as Google’s self-driving technology is, Tesla’s Autopilot (and subsequently Enhanced Autopilot) system has emerged as quite the leader in the self-driving technology space.
All of Tesla’s road-going cars are equipped with Autopilot technology.
Tesla’s autopilot uses eight surround cameras and twelve ultrasonic sensors to complement this vision.
Together, this provides 360-degree visibility and up to 250 meters of range.
These high-tech cameras and sensors view, collect, and analyze data that the vehicle picks up along the way.
Using what is called ‘computer vision’, the vehicle then interprets this information and makes decisions based on it.
Tesla has updated the onboard computer that now has over 40 times the computing power over the previous computer.
The new generation computer runs the new Tesla-developed neural net for enhanced vision, sonar and radar processing.
In the background, Tesla’s EVs collect real-time data (‘shadow mode’ silently observes conditions) from around the world to enable its AI algorithms to better manage and study different roads and traffic conditions.
All this tech wizardry means your Tesla, in autonomous mode, will match speed to traffic conditions, maintain lane discipline, switch lanes automatically, transition from one freeway to another, exit the freeway as the car near it’s set destination, self-park when near a parking spot, and even be summoned to and from your garage.
Although this self-driving and fully autonomous driving technology is being sold commercially in all Tesla cars, Tesla suggests that active driver supervision is required.
Safety Concerns Regarding Autonomous Cars
Technology and safety experts suggest that autonomous cars will make road transportation safer since most accidents take place due to human error.
The idea is that software and sensors will prove to be less error-prone than humans.
However, cybersecurity and the sheer implementation of autonomous driving has raised concerns about road safety.
Tesla’s Autopilot system, although brilliant, has been the cause of several high-profile crashes where Autopilot was active.
Towards this, the Elon Musk headed EV manufacturer has started releasing quarterly crash statistics.
“In the 1st quarter of 2019, we registered one accident for every 2.87 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged,” the automaker has claimed.
“For those driving without Autopilot, we registered one accident for every 1.76 million miles driven.
By comparison, NHTSA’s (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 436,000 miles” they further added.
Starting An Autonomous Car Brand
With the technical know-how about autonomous propulsion easily available, starting an autonomous car brand isn’t as challenging as it was once deemed to be.
However, finding the right brand identity and standing out from other players poses a strong challenge. The best way to go about distinguishing your autonomous car brand is to pick a simple one-word brand name and pair it with a relevant domain extension.
Consider Aurora.tech, a cutting-edge business specializing in self-driving technology. They decided to pair their one-word brand name with a relevant .tech domain for a clean and creative online identity that is meaningful and intuitive.
10 Startups on .TECH that are building the future of Autonomous Vehicles
Although self-driving cars are not that far off being a stunning reality, they are not yet perfected.
Major auto giants such as BMW, Lexus, Nissan, Audi, Mercedes Benz, Tesla, Waymo, and Uber are heavily investing in making driverless cars a reality.
However, whether self-driving cars should be introduced any time soon is still up for debate.
What do you think? Are there any pros or cons that you think we’ve missed?
We’d love to hear from you.