“Self-driving cars are a natural extension of active safety and obviously something we should do” – Elon Musk
That was the moment I was sitting in Tesla car and was trying autopilot where the car senses all vehicles around it and take decisions by itself on speed and moves ahead with driver’s hands off the steering wheel. While cruising on autopilot mode, suddenly another car changed its lane and came in front of us and Tesla has reduced its speed instantaneously to keep the minimum distance from the car. This was my first ever experience of semi-autonomous car drive which can be considered as Level 2 automation which means driving a car with hands off the steering. Just imagine how a completely autonomous vehicle could be? To be candid, personally, I or anyone else would never dare to sit in a completely autonomous vehicle and go for a ride in busy city roads.
“Many Americans are far from being convinced that self-driving cars can e operated safely on our streets” said by Daniel Durazo, Director of communications, Allianz Global assistance USA
But due to development of robotics and sensor technologies, I now see the world is moving towards autonomous in every field and then why not Automobiles?
Recently I came across an interesting article “Tokyo airports tests driverless buses to shuttle visitors “and I really excited to see the best use of autonomous vehicles where the traffic is controlled and safe for visitors. We also see companies like Google, Amazon, Toyota, Audi, and Continental innovating in this technology and also testing their concept vehicles. Various car sharing companies like Uber are considering autonomous cars to add to their car sharing fleet. What is making “autonomous vehicle” so interesting around the world? I thought to pen down my views on this topic. In this article, let us discuss the following
- Technology of autonomous vehicles and brief discussion on their working
- Pros and Cons of this technology
- Technology developments needed for improving adaptability
Technology of autonomous vehicles and how they work
The idea behind the autonomous vehicles would be to implement a number of sensors around the vehicle that detects different things such as pedestrians, traffic lights and other vehicle movements. A self-driving vehicle, also known driverless vehicle is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and moving with little or no human input. There are a total of 6 levels of automation in vehicles. Just to summarize these levels, we have six levels namely from level 0 with no automation to level 5 which is full autonomy i.e. the vehicle can complete travel autonomously in any environmental conditions. Intermediate levels comprise of steering and speed control with driver’s direct or indirect control.
Existing automation in various vehicles like anti-lock braking, electronic stability control, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning system, self-parking, infrared camera are already well established and technology is well matured. The current technology trend is the development of LIDAR, RADAR, Lane guidance, GPS systems and last but not the least the wheel encoders.
Pros and Cons of autonomous vehicles
There are Pro’s and Con’s to everything! The critical thing is how we balance them and realize a product.
- No need any driver and the car know the route to the destination. One can just sit in the back seat and relax or work while on the way to the office. This means a peaceful drive and uses time productively.
- Very useful for people who can’t drive or physically not fit for driving can own an autonomous car.
- Vehicle hire companies like transportation, shuttle bus, car share companies would have lesser overhead costs due to less manpower (driverless), but the investment would be high to keep these vehicles in their fleet.
- Possibilities of research and development in sensor technology to make the driverless drive safer. The sensors can perceive the surroundings better than human and possible human errors can be avoided.
- Auto-parking option would help to reduce the hassle of finding a place and parking. This feature is already is in various cars in the industry.
- Possible creation of new technology jobs in the development of safer technology, virtual testing systems to simulate the autonomous vehicle behaviour, virtual human control of the vehicle during uncontrollable environment conditions.
- Possible opportunities in the development of real city conditions to test the vehicles which may lead to innovations in building test infrastructures.
- Cars can switch their settings as per person profiles after face recognition and the related drive profiles will be followed. Amazon and Apple patenting this idea of “personal profiles “. This means the drive experience would be optimal as per the rider sitting in the car. Even can switch the specific authentications based on the person sitting in the car. For instance, one rider may require fingerprint authentication, some other may require username and password.
- There may not be a sudden decline in the auto insurance premiums but may have some reforms in the policy in terms of who pays the premium. Drivers don’t pay the premium and hence this may need to be paid by auto companies. Finally, this reform might be an advantage to the car owners but disadvantage to auto companies.
- I would say this is a blessing in disguise, as auto companies would be forced to pay the premium, this would motivate the companies to work on all possible research and development and launch a completely fool proof vehicles and save themselves from these insurance premiums.
- Impacts the self-employment community
- Vehicle cost is too high to afford for a common man
- More idle time cost compared to existing driver based car sharing options. As of now Uber drivers own the cars and hence Uber as a company need not worry about the idle time of vehicle but if Uber has to launch autonomous vehicles, then they must own these vehicles and hence vehicle idle time cost would be more.
- Failure of camera to detect an obstacle due to reflections would lead to fatal accident
- As the vehicle is totally internet and computer based, there is a risk of getting hacked. The outcome of this would be the vehicle can be moved away from your garage by hacking its controls.
- Currently there is no any international standard governing the vehicle to vehicle communication. Even if it is available in nascent stage, still every vehicle doesn’t follow it. This implies that on the road where an autonomous car is travelling, there are some other cars on the same road that are not connected with protocol and perhaps just using sensor based identification. This may lead to accident if any faulty sensor outputs and lead to an accident.
Technology developments needed for improving adaptability
- Improved warning systems when the vehicle is in a possible collision condition and after the driver ignores all possible warnings, worst case should be that the vehicle should be able to safely park on road side with parking light on condition. These in fact needed improvements in auto lane switching technologies, tracking the traffic and auto parking with parking lamps on by themselves. Amazon is working on auto lane switching aggressively.
- The Verge posted another incident that a driverless car which was hired for drive may get confused by rainstorms. This is a critical to safety situation and need to improve by working sensor technologies.
- Technology improvement in vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to surrounding environment communication to be improved. This call for technology advancement in vehicle networking, GPS, data processing, data servers due to lot of data transactions would increase drastically as automobiles go autonomous. For instance, Microsoft partnering with various automakers offers Azure cloud
- Some accidents were recorded due to inaccurate detection of the obstacle and root cause found to be the light reflections due to other vehicles around. Hence this needs a fail proof camera detection technologies, back up camera options to fool proof the obstacle detection. This call for a high precision lens technology and image processing advancements.
- It is sure the vehicle cost is the biggest hurdle for this technology, though increase in the mass production levels would certainly reduce the cost
- Hack proof cyber secure system which make sure to have various authentications before actually following any commands.
- More over this needs an international standard for connecting each vehicle with other and make sure all cars follow the same protocol so that there will be very good communication and fault proof driverless drive.
In the era where most exciting innovations in automobile sector already realized. Now a car can park by itself, a car can drive itself without driver steering it, a car can switch lanes by itself, do you think we need more time to realize a 100% autonomous vehicle? I think as the technology developments happen in terms of sensor technologies, GPS and internet and cloud, it is certain that the dream of the complete autonomous vehicle can be realized.
Do you think if really the autonomous vehicles will get on to roads?
This article is based on my own article on Emobility plus – Click here
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Note: The article is totally my own thoughts and not necessarily anyone needs to agree with my thoughts and ideas.