What Does the Future Hold for Self-Driving Cars? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

What Does the Future Hold for Self-Driving Cars?

Self-driving cars may only be in their infancy stage, but they are set to completely transform and revolutionize the transportation industry. Since the beginning of commercial auto production around eight decades ago, there have been many significant shifts in how cars are produced and the kinds of features available to a driver, but the basic formula of a human driver who uses pedals and a steering wheel to drive the car has stayed pretty much the same across that period of time.

However, that’s quickly changing. Newer cars already come with a range of automated features such as self-braking, self-parking, and collision detection features, and both tech and auto companies are working hard to eventually offer vehicles that are capable of navigating the roads themselves, without any input from a human driver.

Automated driving systems for cars and other vehicles are coming, and they are set to bring about massive opportunities and changes.

What are the Levels of Autonomous Vehicles?

Autonomous vehicle functionality is often both referred to and judged on a six-level scale, where Level 0 represents no autonomy, and Level 5 represents a completely autonomous vehicle that is able to consistently perform all driving functions without any human input required.

  • Level 0: The driver is responsible for all core driving tasks, although features such as blind-spot warnings, lane departure warnings, or automatic emergency braking might be present.
  • Level 1: The vehicle navigation is still mainly controlled by the driver, however, there are driving-assist features present, like adaptive cruise control or automatic lane centering
  • Level 2: The vehicle still requires control from the driver, but it is capable of simultaneously using assisted-driving features
  • Level 3: A driver is still required, but they are not needed to navigate or monitor the road environment, as long as certain criteria are met. The driver must remain alert in order to resume control of the vehicle if the conditions are no longer met
  • Level 4: The vehicle is able to carry out all driving functions automatically and does not require the driver to remain ready to take over control. However, the automatic driving system might decline in quality under certain conditions such as off-road driving, and the driver has the option to take over the control
  • Level 5: Automatic driving system is so advanced that the vehicle is able to carry out all driving functions regardless of the conditions

Where Are We up to with Autonomous Cars?

Modern cars already feature a range of machine-assisted and machine-corrective technologies, such as potential collision detection, lane correction, and automated parking. Certain cars from manufacturers including Audi and Tesla include semi-autonomous Level 3 driving features.

Most of the more advanced vehicles on our roads right now fall into Level 2 and Level 3, while commercially available vehicles that meet Level 4 criteria are still in the development and testing phases. Ford and Volvo are working to release Level 4 vehicles in 2021, while Tesla is working to bring out Level 5 vehicles even sooner.

Are Self-Driving Cars Safe?

Some expert reports have suggested that autonomous vehicles are already safer than vehicles driven by a human in some conditions. For example, self-driving cars can’t:

  • Suffer from sleep deprivation
  • Drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Drive distracted

In fact, self-driving cars have wider fields of vision than humans and since they are designed to obey traffic laws, there’s much less room for human error. Unlike human drivers, autonomous driving systems won’t disregard laws or miss speed limits.

As a result, self-driving technology certainly has the potential to make roads safer and reduce the risk of collisions, although some high-profile accidents have led to questions about poorly functioning self-driving systems. In 2016, a man in China was killed when his Tesla, which reportedly had self-driving features activated at the time, went into the back of a cleaning truck. However, the police found that the Tesla driver was not paying attention to the road at the time in accordance with the autopilot rules.

Also in 2016, a man in the U.S. died when his Tesla crashed into a tractor while in autopilot mode; the Tesla’s sensors misidentified the white tractor as being part of the sky. However, while there have been instances where self-driving cars appear to have been at fault for collisions, it’s important to note that human operators failing to pay attention to the road has also been a factor.

Right now, the public data available around the safety of self-driving cars remains somewhat limited. In the U.S., most of the cities and states where autonomous driving system testing is occurring tend to have relatively dry weather conditions and uncomplicated road systems, which make it easy for self-driving vehicles to function. Competing automated driving systems also rely on various technology platforms, with some systems likely to be safer when compared with others. If you’re interested in learning more about autonomous vehicles and the many applications they have, check out the programs available at Kettering University Online.

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Accepted?

Perception issues are likely going to have to be overcome in terms of self-driving cars. In 2019, surveys found that 71% of people would not be afraid to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle, but the numbers were down slightly from the 73% of respondents the year before. However, it’s still an improvement on 2017’s results, where 63% of respondents reported that they would be reluctant to get in a driverless vehicle. However, the same fearlessness does not seem to apply when others are involved, as under 20% of respondents in 2019 said that they would be happy to let their children ride in an autonomous vehicle.

So far, data shows that people are cautious about autonomous driving technology, and as a result, many will need to see proof that it is a safe method of transportation before they will be able to embrace it.

Where do you stand on self-driving cars? Would you be happy to ride in one, or do you prefer the traditional way of driving?

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