Photo by Axel Antas-Bergkvist on Unsplash

Autonomous Cars: The Way of the Future

By: Michelle Manganiello

Writer

To many, self-driving cars are a deep dive into the future that seem far off. However, self-driving cars are closer to reality than one may think. Both technology companies and car manufacturers are in the process of developing their self-driving vehicles right now, and there is no doubt that there will be a race to see who comes out first with the latest and greatest.

At the moment, the company Waymo seems to be leading the race. Waymo is the first company to ever offer a commercial car in California that reportedly has self-driving car disengagements, which all companies can use on their vehicles on the state’s public roads.

Uber has spent more than $1 billion on its autonomous vehicle, which is supposed to be a modified Volvo XC90. This car is a mix of human controls including steering wheels and brake pedals with automated steering and braking systems.

Next, we have the two German automotive giants: Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Their aim is to release a driverless robot taxi in the early 2020s. Mercedes-Benz also has a partnership with Bosch in hopes to launch a self-driving car pilot to develop “Automated Valet Parking” in Silicon Valley in 2019. After one click on a smartphone app, this service will autonomously take a car from a drop-off area to a free space in a parking area.

Many think Apple is the store where one would get their iPhone, Macbook, Apple Watch or Airpods. But in fact, it is one of the leading car companies releasing an autonomous vehicle. Apple has been working on a self driving startup called, Drive.ai. Apple is also currently testing a fleet of Lexus RX450h SUVs in California, equipped with racks of LIDAR and radar sensors.

Alexis Martin is a junior at UGA studying Management Information Systems. Her dream is to work with autonomous vehicles one day. Having heavily researched these machine-like vehicles, Martin claims, “Self-driving cars are our new future. Not only is every car company in the U.S. planning on launching their own version of an autonomous car, but they’re all already in the testing phase.  Even companies like Apple and Uber are hoping on the autonomous vehicle bandwagon, with Uber even testing its cars on the streets of Pittsburg. I think this is all very exciting and can’t wait to see how traffic is improved because of these vehicles.”

To explore the background of these computer cars, and basically all cars, there are six levels of autonomy established, ranging from 0 to 5. Level 0 cars have human drivers — they have no autonomous capabilities. Going up the ladder, a Level 4 vehicle can pretty much do all the driving on its own, but only in certain conditions such as in set areas or when the weather is good. A Level 5 vehicle does not require a human at all and it can do all the driving in all circumstances. So, when talking about complete driverless cars, that’s a Level 4 or 5.

There are a plethora of technological and car companies thinking of the car of your dreams, but the question remains if autonomous vehicles are safer than regular cars or not. If you get into an accident in a self-driving car versus a regular vehicle, which car would determine your fate?

In the United States, there is approximately one death for every 100 million miles driven. Autonomous vehicles would need to do better than that, but how much better? Testing safety is another challenge in itself. It would be a costly endeavor, in terms of time and money, because gathering data to prove self-driving cars are safe would require hundreds of millions, even billions, of miles to be driven. Ultimately, through the testing of Waymo, self-driving cars have been proven to be slightly safer — specifically, 10 percent safer than the average human-driven car. 

Contrary to popular belief, these machines are not perfect — they could malfunction or make mistakes just as us humans do, and that is the part of the process that scares people. Autonomous vehicles are seen as this glamorous, new style, but people may need to work up the courage to drive these kinds of vehicles where they would be putting their lives in the hands of a camera and a computer– even if it is indeed a safer option. Research claims that a sense of personal control encourages people to live a happier and healthier life. So what would losing control in one of the most distinct points in modern day society — driving cars — look like? Will driverless cars enrich our culture or lead to more laziness?

It is certain that more time, money and research are needed to answer these questions. Without a doubt, driverless cars are one aspect of a future that will contain more artificial intelligence that will impact us as a society, hopefully for the better.

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