With an alarming number of trafficdeaths each year, drivers need to embrace the safety that self-driving cars canbring to our roadways. Technology hasundoubtedly made the world a better place. How will technology make our roadways safer too? At first, cars that drive themselves mightsound like a scary idea.
The truth isthat there are already many cars on our roadways today that are partway self-driving. The Society of Automotive Engineershas classified self-driving cars into levels ranging from Level 0 to Level 5 (Davies2016). A typical car with noself-driving capabilities would be classified as Level 0 (Davies 2016). On the other hand, a car classified as Level5 would be completely self-driving and not intended to be driven by an actualdriver (Davies 2016). Today, the bestself-driving cars available to consumers are only at Level 2.
In theself-driving car industry, there are many businesses taking differentapproaches in an attempt to reach the coveted Level 5 autonomy. Four companies that are currently creatingself-driving cars include Waymo, Tesla, Comma AI, and Embark. Waymo is a company owned by Alphabet,Google’s parent company (Waymo Family ofSites). The company has been workingon creating self-driving cars since 2009 when it was still working as Google’sself-driving car project (Waymo Family ofSites). By 2012, their customizedToyota Prius and Lexus RX450h were able to drive themselves comfortably along freeways. This is when the company decided to start toshift their focus to the more complexed city streets.
In 2015, Waymo, still known has Google’sself-driving car project, gave the world’s first fully self-driving ride onpublic roadways (Waymo Family of Sites). This ride was a test of Level 5 autonomy as therewasn’t a steering wheel or pedals inside the car (Waymo Family of Sites). Theonly passenger in the vehicle was Steve, a man who is blind (Waymo Family of Sites). With this self-driving technology that Waymohas created, their cars can be classified as Level 4 autonomy. Tesla also has self-drivingtechnology built into all of their cars. Tesla uses an autopilot system that is rated as Level 2 self-driving. This self-driving car technology is builtinto all of their cars.
The technologyallows the car to stay in the correct lane, and change lanes (Tesla Family of Sites). Although this technology works great while onthe freeway, the Level 2 autonomy still requires that the driver be alert andpaying attention at all times. Thistechnology isn’t as advanced as Waymo’s, technology, but it is already inproduction and being used on the roads today. Comma AI is another company that is creatingself-driving technology. Their goal isto make the technology very affordable and available to anybody using only afront mounted phone camera, and the sensors that are built into modern cars (Comma AI Family of Sites). This affordable technology is designed towork with cars that potential customers already have. The software that they have developed isopen-sourced, so anybody who has enough technological knowledge can implementit for their own car using only a few pieces of custom hardware Comma AI designedand sells.
Comma AI is also working toattain Level 5 autonomy in a different way from other businesses. They are utilizing heavily artificialintelligence. Their idea is to show thecar what “good driving” looks like. Thisis already being accomplished by many users of a mobile application Comma AIdeveloped called “chffr – Dash Cam” (CommaAI Family of Sites). This app is adash cam that records information about the way that its users drive and thensends it to Comma AI to implement into the open-sourced Openpilotsoftware. The plan is to collect as muchinformation about “good driving” as possible so that eventually, the car willbe able to drive itself with no problem. The other company working toimplement self-driving technology is Embark.
Embark is a smaller company that has developed self-driving trucks (Embark Family of Sites). Their focus is on creating trucks that candrive the long distances of interstate travel without a driver using a varietyof cameras and sensors. This technologyis already being implemented to deliver refrigerators with a company Embarkpartnered up with for rolling out this technology (Davies 2017). Their technology is still being tested, butwhen it is finally rolled out commercially, they hope to be allow their trucksto drive without a driver along stretches of freeway and only require truckdrivers when they arrive on the exit close to their destination. Self-driving vehicles offercountless benefits when it comes to keeping our roadways safer. The first way that self-driving cars willmake our roadways safer is because they will allow people to feel morecomfortable.
At first, it may seem scarythat a car is driving without human input, but after getting used to it, itwill feel more comfortable, especially when on the interstate. When on the interstate, passing trucks can bea bit intimidating. I am worried that thetruck drivers might be drowsy or not paying attention. I am worried that they might drift into mylane. This can also be said for all carsI am interacting with on the road. It ishard to know if the people driving on the road are paying attention to driving.
Fortunately, self-driving cars arealready helping with this. Embark iscurrently using their self-driving trucks to deliver refrigerators (Davies 2017). These trucks are driving a route from ElPaso, Texas to Palm Springs, California along Interstate 10 (Davies 2017). Currently, a driver is still required to sitin the truck and monitor it to ensure everything is running properly. In the future, however, the goal is for thetruck driver to drive it to the interstate. The truck driver can then get out and let the truck drive by itselfalong Interstate 10. Although this maysound like a huge challenge, it isn’t as challenging as it may seem. Along the interstate, there aren’tpedestrians, traffic lights, or other complicated traffic things.
The routes these trucks would drive would notbe too crowded. The big benefit ofhaving these self-driving trucks drive rather than humans is that the computerswon’t get tired. It is easy for truckdrivers to get tired and distracted along these long stretches of highway. This means they are not always alert whendriving. Computers will help all on theroadways by keeping the truck in its lane and driving perfectly along theinterstate. This helps to create a morecomfortable and safer environment for everyone on the roadway. The truck drivers don’t have to try to stayfocus and risk becoming drowsy and go off the road, and the cars around thesemi can feel confident that the truck is going to stay in its lane and not hitanyone.
Self-driving trucks couldprevent 4,000 fatal truck crashes each year that usually result from humanerror (Davies 2017).Another reason that self-drivingcars will create safer roadways is because of the consistency that self-drivingcars offer. Self-driving cars are unlikehumans in that they do not get tired, bored, or have distractions. These cars will consistently do the samething each day.
This consistently willensure that a minimal number of crashes occur.Although self-driving cars willhave an overall positive impact on the world, like most new technology, thereare some concerns. An example of one concernis a fatal car crash that occurred while a driver was using the Tesla autopilotfeature (Spacek). The car drove rightunder a semi that was making a left-hand turn (Spacek).
It is suspected that the truck trailer hadblended in with the sky causing the Tesla autopilot system to not sense it(Spacek). Although this may seem like anexample of self-driving cars causing safety hazards, the main cause of theaccident was the driver not paying attention. The driver using this technology is technically required to be attentiveand be ready to take control of the car at any second when using thisfeature. In this case the driver wasn’t. Many witnesses say the driver should have seenthe truck and at least been able to break (Spacek).
After this accident, however, Tesla changedit so that both the radar and camera sensors have the same level of prioritywhen stopping the car to prevent an object from blending in with the background(Krisher). This shows that the softwareengineers creating these systems have a huge responsibility. With ample testing, however, these types ofincidents should be easily avoidable making self-driving cars safer than thetraditional car requiring a driver.
Self-driving cars will create saferroadways for all. They will allowattentive drivers the luxury of not worrying about inattentive drivers. If properly designed, the cars willseamlessly fit in with the traffic system already in place. Now, it is just a matter of time beforeself-driving vehicles become the norm as a safer alternative to traditionalvehicles.