Thanks to the dreams we’ve had for centuries, technology has been evolving with the speed of light. Cars are no exception. From just the idea of having easier transportation, soon we will reach the point of having a self-driving car which runs with minimal human intervention.
According to Wikipedia, the term “automated car” implies that the system is run by a machine following the driver’s decisions instead of a pure independent concept. The experiment started in 1920, but the first automated car was created in 1977 in Japan with cameras to read the road markers. Since then, the U.S. government has dedicated more funds to the research, adding more automated elements in the car and the road infrastructure. In 2015, automated cars were approved for testing on public roads.
The automation system breaks down into six levels (the lowest being 0 and the highest being 5) to illustrate the level of control. One of the most popular automated cars, the 2018 Audi A8 Luxury Sedan, is on the third level. This means the system is capable enough to allow the driver to turn his attention away from driving. He must still be ready when the system needs an emergency intervention, though. Recently, ZMP of Japan has started public testing for its driverless taxi which is the highest system level. They are planning to mass produce this product for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics if nothing goes wrong.
Automatic driving stirs up much interest due to its potential future usage. When the technology reaches a self-sustained stage, the accidents related to human errors can be highly reduced. Driving can be compromised by food, drinks, drugs, or medical conditions like seizures; all of these are avoidable with automatic driving. Manufacturers can work together with traffic control to limit speed and organize traffic flow, decreasing the need for traffic police and street signs. It may be the answer we need for the traffic jams of urban cities.
Of course, innovations don’t happen without risks. Global concerns are related to the transition and regulation changes. Those who work in driving-related fields may reject the whole concept; otherwise, they will face mass unemployment. Tracking will make privacy almost nonexistent. Machines are still prone to errors, flaws, and other malicious programs. As far as safety is concerned, it’s hard to make a positive claim. Since its creation, this project has caused the death of two test drivers and one pedestrian. There were also crash reports without casualties. The accidents were associated with an inability to use brakes or roll back when necessary and difficulty in detecting pedestrians (especially in sub-optimal situations). These examples may be the sign that we still have lots of homework to do.
Nowadays, groups like Uber, Toyota, Apple, Tesla, and Google are working on improving the safety level as well as the system’s quick adaptation. While the scientists are playing with the complicated algorithms, the rest us need to consider the social and environmental consequences when the automation finally makes its public debut.