Are Autonomous Cars Here?

Today, federal auto safety regulators made it clear that they believe the nation’s highways will be safer driven by machines rather than people, but how do we get there? There are many thoughts and plans by companies like Tesla, Google, and Uber, but as of right now fully autonomous cars are still a vision, something that everyone is striving to be the first to complete while simultaneously adhering to regulations set forth by the Department of Transportation.

I believe that autonomous cars would be a huge step for our planet. No longer would friends argue over who’s going to drive. No longer would tired drivers who are simply working hard to support their families have to worry about getting home after a long day at the office. I believe that accidents and auto-related deaths would go down by a lot. In fact, last year there were nearly 40,000 auto-related deaths in the United States — the most since 2008. This is not a positive trend, surely not one we as a nation want to continue. However, while autonomous cars seem to be this marvelous toy we can’t quite yet have, there are definitely some questions that arise.

Self-driving cars sound great, but they will still have to deal with irrational drivers on the road, you know, the people who drive 75 in a 40 and weave through traffic like they’re Tony Stewart. These cars “use radar, lasers and high-definition cameras to scan roads for obstacles,” so in bad weather they may have a hard time doing this, potentially losing verification of where the lines on the road are or misjudging a pothole. These among other issues are some of the alarming questions that come up when addressing the topic of autonomous mobiles.

This all being said, I still believe that autonomous cars are the way of the future. Sure, like anything this advanced and new, there are some technical difficulties. But these malfunctions with the cars (some fatal) are attributed more to people being careless/uninformed. For example, in response to Joshua Brown’s fatal accident while riding in the self-driving Model S, Tesla said “it is not intended to be used hands-free and parts of the system are unfinished.” Now, if somebody gave me this information there is no way I would trust the autonomous feature of the car — I would probably never use it. This isn’t really Tesla’s fault, as they specifically state it is not intended for hands-free use. It’s unfortunate that a man had to die, but did he know this about the car before he tried to use it hands-free?

Besides the more popular solutions that accident rates and what not will drop, Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) bring with them many other benefits. These AVs “could free as much as 50 minutes a day for users,” who could now use that time to do more work or whatever they choose. Additionally, things like parking will become a lot easier, and AVs could also help companies reshape and revamp their supply chains by doing things like reducing labor costs. While some people remain skeptical about AVs and their benefits due to concerns such as safety, here is some good news. As of today, a new ARM Cortex R52 processor was announced, which “will improve the timing and precision of braking systems so autonomous cars can avoid collisions and stop at red lights.” This is a big concern for many people, as stopping suddenly to avoid collisions or running a red light is something even people struggle to do. But that is exactly why AVs are the future. With this updated technology, which will only continue to improve, we can make AVs safer than any person driving behind the wheel. Machines don’t get distracted or lose focus, and once we have the formula right AVs will take control and act as our personal drivers.

Even the personal drivers we have come to know and love are striving towards AVs. Lyft has vowed that within the next five years most of their cars will be AVs giving customers rides. These rides will start out at slow speeds in remote areas, but the company hopes to grow in this technology and eventually get to a point where the autonomous mobiles can drive in many different situations, including bad weather.

While this cutting-edge technology is just around the corner, there are still regulations that these companies will have to face. The Department of Transportation just published a “15-point safety standard for the design and development of autonomous vehicles,” and told states they must come up with uniform policies applying to self-driving cars. The 15-point safety standard deals with things like what to do if technology fails and how passengers will be protected in crashes. The future is here, and everyone is trying to be part of history when fully AVs hit the scene. Many people will contend they love driving and do not want to give that up. On some level I agree; at the same time, if I could have all the time I spend driving to do things like work, homework, watch TV, etc., I wouldn’t think twice about letting my car drive me around.