Self-driven cars are a subject that has floated around for over 90 years, it is something that is debated by a lot of people and opinions often vary on the future of autonomous cars.
The thought that the human race could one day solely rely on self-driving cars is attractive to some people and is the reason why over these 90 years, researchers have dedicated time and effort into creating a perfect self-driven car but is it really going to become a way of the future?
In the past few years, autonomous technology has gained huge momentum and self-driven vehicles are being created and sold to the public but it was only a matter of time before incidents started to happen with these self-driven cars, can technology really be that bulletproof that nothing could go wrong? We often experience technological issues in day to day life, whether it’s our MacBook’s packing up or our cellphone’s freezing. As a human race, is it possible to put enough trust in technology that it will be in control of our lives and safety?
People started to gain confidence in autonomous vehicles and even threw around the thought that by 2020, everyone would rely on this technology and Many car companies were jumping into the self-driving car technology. It was a revelation, people were amazed how far we had advanced and what technology was capable of producing but It wasn’t until May 2016 when autonomous vehicles had a major hiccup in its advancements. A driver died in the first fatal crash while using autopilot mode. The driver, Joshua Brown, 40, put his Tesla into autopilot mode, which is made to control the vehicle during highway driving. The cars system failed to detect a large 18-wheel truck and trailer crossing the highway he was driving on. Tesla said, “the car attempted to drive full speed under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S” a police report stated that the top of the vehicle was torn off by the force of the collision. Joshua Brown owned a tech company called, Nexu. He often posted videos of his car in autopilot mode, one of his videos showed his car avoiding a collision on a highway. This video was tweeted by Elon Musk, Tesla CEO after the incident which resulted in the video getting over 1 million views.
This sparks the question, whose to blame? Is it the manufacturer fault or do we just put it down to a glitch in technology which is sometimes inevitable? This incident started debates whether self-driven cars are actually a good idea, it was a huge setback.
The history behind autonomous vehicles and how they got to where they are today is very interesting to say the least and begun way before most people realize.
In 1925, Francis Houdina created a radio-controlled car. He drove it down the streets on Manhattan, New York without anyone sitting in the driver’s seat. The radio-controlled car could, start its engine, sound its horn and change gears, just as if there was a ghost at the wheel controlling it. People were under the impression that Houdinas radio controlled car was an illusion and was not real due to the fact that his name sounded a lot like the famous escape artist and illusionist Harry Houdini. But the two didn’t have a connection at all. The next breakthrough was in 1969, John McCarthy, one of the founding fathers of AI (Artificial Intelligence) wrote an essay titled Computer Controlled Cars. He calls it an “automatic chauffeur” that is able to navigate public roads using a television camera. He also talks about how users should be able to enter a certain place they want to go using a keyboard, that would then prompt the car to drive there. Other commands would allow the car to make pit stops, change the destination and slow down. But, no such vehicle is built but McCarthy’s essay opened up a whole new self-driven world to other researchers. In the 1990s, Dean Pomerleua wrote a thesis on how a self-driving car could take in mages from the road and in turn, output specific controls. In 1995, Pomerleau brought Todd Jochem in on this experiment and they took their self-driving car system on the road. They travelled 2797 miles across the United States of America, they were in control of speeding and braking but this journey was titled “No Hands Across America” In 2002, Darpa announced a Grand challenge, they decide to offer researches $1 million to design and build a self-driving car that can navigate 142 miles through the Mojave Desert in North America. Excited researchers got to work and 2 years later, in 2004, the challenged begun. None of the 15 competitors completed the course. The entry that did the best, made it less than 7 miles in a couple of hours, it then caught fire. The creation of self-driving’s cars took a back seat and in the late 2000s, self-parking systems begun to surface. This was demonstrating that autonomous road technologies were very close to be ready to handle real life scenarios. In 2009, Ford incorporated what is known as Park Assist into some of their vehicles. BMW was not far behind, just a year later, they created their own parallel parking assistant. Also in 2009, Google took an attempt to develop a self-driving car, this project was named Waymo and was a secret. Within a couple of years, they announced that their self-driving cars have driven 300,000 miles completely under computer control. In 2014, a self-driving car was made without a steering wheel, gas or brake pedal, thus making it a 100% self-driving car. Near the end of 2015, over 2 million miles had been driven by googles self-driven car.
Just the next year, in 2016, the set back with the Tesla fatality happened and this created many difficulties for companies creating self-driven cars. Things didn’t go as planned when in March 2018, a pedestrian crossing Mill Avenue at its intersection with Curry Road in Tempe, Arizona, was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle at the intersection. The autonomous car operated by Uber had an emergency backup driver behind the wheel but evidentially, the driver could not control what happened. This incident is believed to be the first pedestrian death caused by self-driving technology. Uber, along with other tech companies and automakers have expanded their self-driven car testing in cities around the Unites States but it is not clear if this accident in Arizona will slow down the autonomous testing and creation. All we do know is, Uber has put the self-driven car testing on hold.
“This tragic incident makes clear that autonomous vehicle technology has a long way to go before it is truly safe for the passengers, pedestrians, and drivers who share America’s roads,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.
Audi is not letting any of that slow them down, in fact, they claim that their next generation A8 sedan will be the first car with SAE level 3 (Vehicles that can drive themselves in certain situations. When in autonomous mode, human intervention is not needed. But a human driver must be ready to take over when the vehicle encounters a situation that exceeds its limits) Audi’s mission to create a stress-free commute to work faces complications other than technology glitches. It is still unclear whether Audi will get the go ahead to sell this system to the general public.
At CES 2018, Nvidia showed a new self-driving car chip called Xavier which will incorporate Artificial intelligence capabilities. They will be partnering with Volkswagen to create Artificial intelligence for future autonomous cars and they believe that this will revolutionize autonomous technology.
If we look at the stats, A pedestrian is killed by a car roughly every 90 minutes in the United States. That is a huge number of fatalities, would it be possible that if autonomous technology got to a point of no errors, the number of deaths caused by car hits would decrease? Self-driving cars have already been put through a countless number of tests, experts are saying that the technology does in fact have the potential to be safer than human drivers. If 40,000 traffic deaths occurred on the roads last year, the argument that self-driven cars haven’t caused nearly close to that amount of fatalities so what if this way of transportation is better for the human race and actually will be saving lives. Self-driven cars are made to be safer because unlike humans, they can’t speed or drive in a way that can negatively affect other cars on the roads. Self-driven cars can’t drink and drive drunk, they can’t fall asleep and go into oncoming traffic and the definitely can’t text and drive.
There is. Along way to go before we can put our complete trust into autonomous vehicles, companies will continue to test and create until they perfect the craft and build something that is error proof that will take over the transportation world.