Driverless Cars; Robots on the Road

Driverless Cars; Robots on the Road

The use of autonomous cars – a robotic, self-driven device – has been a staple part of science fiction for almost as many decades as science fiction has existed. Within the last couple of years these vehicles are becoming a real possibility. 

Cars made by many well-known manufactures, along with examples from tech giants Google and Autoliv Inc., are now being prepared and licensed for use on public highways, but not everyone is happy about it. 


Driverless Car

In 2012 there were an estimated 1,240,000 road deaths throughout the world, and many feel that having an autonomous vehicle in amongst our increasingly congested roads will only add to the problem.  In reality, vehicles come with several levels of control:   

  • Control Level 1: The driver completely controls the vehicle at all times with advice from on-board computers giving feedback.
  • Control Level 2: An individual vehicle controls the main vehicle but some features are automated, such as electronic stability control or automatic braking.
  • Control Level 3: At least two controls with different features can be automated in unison, such as adaptive cruise control in combination with lane keeping for safer motorway driving.
  • Control Level 4: The driver can hand over control of all safety-critical functions under certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and hands functions back.
  • Control Level 5: The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time.   Cars in this category could essentially travel without occupants.

Driverless Car2

Driverless cars represent a huge leap forward in travel, where increasingly secure electronics systems, are likely only to be a danger when some inattentive driver ploughs their own car into the side of one. Obviously it is the level 5 vehicles that cause the most concern as there is no human system to take over should they experience some kind of failure that takes away control, and this is the major argument used by those opposed to the system.   However, the likelihood of some fatality occurring because an automated device experiences a problem is fairly remote, particularly as a number of fail safes can be built into the device and it can be monitored for defects and unexpected behavior at all times.  Aircraft have used so called ‘fly-by-wire’ systems for many years and not a single air incident can be attributed to the system suddenly operating outside of expected parameters.  Certainly, there have been failures, but back-up systems usually mean that these are quickly resolved.


Driverless Car3

 

images courtesy:
Reuters
Mike Keefe
Rinspeed via Huffpost Tech