Self-Driving Cars And A Future Full Of Ambiguities

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Self-Driving Cars

The global car market is currently embarking upon a new journey. It is beginning a voyage from an underdeveloped manifestation of human fantasy to a material reality. Self-driving cars, in both science fiction and human minds, have been fundamentally one of the most extraordinary experiences mankind has always wanted to lay hands on. It has been eight years since Google began working on driverless cars. Today, a fully autonomous car is not a very distant achievement.

Self-Driving Cars Through The Stages Of Time

Let us view how this idea has stood the test of time, what benefits we may accrue and what complications the public would face as these machines become a part of our transport system?

The History of Self-driving Cars and the Hard Work of Stakeholders

Most people have this misconception that Google or Tesla laid the foundation of driverless cars. The idea of self-driving cars was first envisioned by General Motors during the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Two decades later, GM tested a Chevrolet equipped with ‘pickup coils’, which was capable of steering itself without human intervention. In 1977, S. Tsugawa along with his associates at Japan’s Tsukuba Mechanical Engineering Laboratory unveiled a vehicle, which could be termed as the first autonomous car. It featured two cameras which made use of analog computer technology and could process images of the road ahead. Later, a German aerospace engineer, Ernst Dickmanns worked hard on this technology and got famous as “the pioneer of the autonomous car” owing to the numerous projects he introduced in 1980s.

Fast forward to the 21st century and you see not only automakers but also the tech giants working to make fully self-driving cars a reality. Who’s working to realize this dream? You would be surprised to see a few names in the list which includes Google, Uber, China’s Baidu, Tesla, GM, Daimler, Volvo, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Audi, BMW, Toyota, Mercedes-benz etc, are developing solutions and most of them are even test driving their autonomous cars in different parts of the world including US, UK and China.

Latest Development in Autonomous Car Technology

Google has taught its self-driving cars to be more sensitive to its surroundings. To make them more secure, the software engineers at Google have updated the AI system giving the cars an ability to both honk and raise the pitch as the situation demands. As per the recent monthly report of this project, Google claims that they want to build “cars to honk like a patient, seasoned driver.” It is safe to assume that when put in practice these self-driving cars can give heads up to the road vehicles and other sensory driver-less cars, to avoid collision. Furthermore, the developers have a vision of eradicating traffic lights and other extras on our roads in an effort to maintain a steady flow of traffic, reduce traffic jams and ensure a smooth journey where passengers can just sit and relax and do whatever they want.

The number of automakers introducing their self-driving cars is increasing and the governments around the world are passing legislation to allow their test drives. Tesla and Volvo are leading at the moment with both automakers introducing autonomous driving features in their cars. The Tesla Model S has autopilot which employs cameras and radars to manage car’s speed and steering. The Volvo XC90 has been introduced with lane assist, adaptive cruise control and a suite of automatic emergency systems. Other prominent project Volvo is working on is the conception of road trains for commercial vehicles.

Future Problems

What’s interesting to notice is that, in case of an accident caused by a self-driving car, the blame would be on the automaker who built the car and not the company who designed the software. This is because left alone, the software is not going to do anything unless someone uses it. Keeping this mind, tech companies like Microsoft are more interested in just developing the software required for autonomous vehicles rather than turning itself into a car producer. Google’s managing director, Philipp Justus, recently said that his company does not plan to become a car manufacturer, rather they will stick to innovating new software, required for the driver-less cars.

Some important questions which arise when dealing with the self-driving cars are:

  • Firstly, should we trust self-driving cars’ capability of taking an intelligent decision? For example, in case of a possible impact with a pedestrian, who should be saved, the driver or the pedestrian?
  • Secondly, is it logical enough to trust self-driving cars for our safety? For instance, in a serious situation where the driver has to go through a wrong way or take a not-recommended path, would the car allow us to take that route or simply deny the trip? What about the abuse and criminality in which these cars could be used?
  • Last but not least, will the consumers accept them when these driverless cars are available for public use? The US and UK governments have allowed trials and many automakers have predicted to launch their semi-autonomous cars by 2020. But remember, full driverless cars might not become reality until 2030. Once they hit the roads, how they will impact the motorists of conventional cars? In the insure side, who will pay in case of an accident?

Public Opinion

In the past, we have seen new technologies such as smartphones and touch displays gaining public confidence very quickly and one could expect the same thing to happen with self-driving cars. The general public might welcome this innovation happily, as it will become the latest trend and a fashion statement. Youngsters especially dependent on smart devices might love the effortless experience the driverless cars would offer. Others may not be really comfortable with their life being left on the mercy of AI software.

What’s your opinion about it? Share with us in the comments section below.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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