Self-Driving Cars and the Future
The automotive industry is constantly innovating itself, from hybrids and electrics and now to autonomous vehicles, the newest trend in this rapidly evolving market and the development of the autonomous driving technology is now accelerating faster than ever before.
An autonomous car is a “vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input”. Once thought to be an idea of science fiction is now closer than ever to reality. Self-driving cars, including both the google self-driving car project and Tesla has logged in thousands of miles on the road, however they are yet not all fully commercially available as there are still some kinks here and there to iron out.
How does it work?
Autonomous cars use a variety of sensors and software to see the world around it including objects such as: cyclists, pedestrians, vehicles, curbs etc.; gathering and processing data in real time in order to navigate safely. The system can include radar, lidar, motion-sensors, computer vision and GPS.
The first stage is to “See”, the car initially processes both map and sensor information to determine its surrounding, the next stage is “Understand” the software processes the sensors to detect objects and gain information like size, location, movement pattern etc., the next step is to “Predict”, it then predicts what will happen next, what the objects around it will do based on movement pattern analysis e.g. the car ahead coming to a stop or a pedestrian crossing the streets. the last stage is “Decision”, after processing all the information the software makes a decision on what it should do, either change speed, change direction, stop, drive on etc.
Watch the video below to understand more:
Issues facing Autonomous Vehicles
Although, both autonomous cars have racked up thousands of miles on road, it is still not available commercially on a large scale; this is due to a variety of issues.
By the end of 2015 Google has reported more than 270 failures and around 13 near misses; at the event that the software reports a failure, manual control is “disengaged” to get the car back to human control.
The first fatal accident an autonomous vehicle happened on May 2016 Florida,USA, on Tesla Model S which is a Semi-Autonomous car with “Autopilot” feature. The car crashed into a large 18 wheel tractor-trailer. A formal investigation was launched and preliminary reports indicate that the system failed to apply the brakes as the truck made a left turn in front of the Tesla, the car continued to drive full speed and crashed. According to Tesla Motor, “neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”
Despite the difficulties and challenges that face self-driving cars, many still believe that self-driving cars is future. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that “Tesla vehicles will drive themselves in 2 years”, Ford CEO Mark Fields announced that the company plans to offer fully Autonomous vehicles by 2021, Volkswagen expects self-driving cars to be on market by 2019, recently Uber announced that it will bring a fleet of self-driving Volvo cars to Pittsburgh USA by the end of this month however it is said to be equipped with safety drivers therefore not fully autonomous. As the automotive industry heads in this direction, many fear the missing human element in the driving experience, a technology which is also being worked on, system that understands human behavior and imitates it on the road.
Now all that’s left is flying cars to be a reality, then we will be truly living in the future.