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Who Would Let the Robot Drive? The Future of Autonomous Vehicles

A car that can navigate rush hour traffic chaos better than any human driver. That’s the vision, but self-driving cars aren’t road ready yet.

Another restless night with only a couple of hours of REM sleep. And now, a long commute driving to work in heavy traffic. But no worries, you will be able to catch a few zzzzzzz’s along the way in your personal autonomous vehicle.

Alas, for now, that is just a dream.

The human factor

According to the latest statistics from the United States Department of Transportation, one person dies every hour in the U.S. in a drunk driving crash. Alcohol and/or drugs impact reaction time, ability to make decisions, and vision.

It’s estimated that another 9 people are killed in distracted driving crashes every day. 

And those numbers do not include people dying in crashes for other reasons, like bad weather conditions or failing to stop at a stop sign. Thousands of people survive horrible crashes, but suffer serious injuries.

So does that mean there is a growing movement to trust ‘artificially intelligent drivers’ over human drivers? 

Not yet.

But people are appreciating tech, such as adaptive cruise control and active parking assist.

Driverless cars … a safer option?

There are many reasons why people may support fully autonomous vehicles; no more white knuckle grip on the steering wheel in a terrifying snowstorm, no more road rage incidents (hopefully), and no more near misses due to crazy drivers.

Check out a related article:

So why the distrust in AI?

Popular science fiction movies play a role, although many people may not want to admit that!

And then, there was the 2018 fatal incident in Arizona that involved a self-driving Uber car (with a safety driver onboard) that no one can forget.

It appears that rather than unveiling brand new shiny automated vehicles, car manufacturers around the world will need to continue gradually implementing new driver assistance technology. And…. The industry will need to prove that safety measures have dramatically improved.

The AI that cares

Frustrated, aggressive, and even tired drivers wreak havoc on the roads every single day.

But what if an AI personal assistant inside a car tried to calm frayed nerves?

Cars can already connect to traffic lights, and count down the seconds to green to soothe impatient drivers. 

Now consider a vehicle that can detect through various sensors when you are stressed out. A chatbot that asks how you are and suggests a ‘guided breathing exercise.’

This driving technology is not in the real world yet, but it would be interesting to monitor autonomous cars trends and the impact on the morning commute if it does go into widespread production.

Laser tech in your car 

Not everyone is on board (notably Tesla CEO Elon Musk), but a lot of talk about autonomous vehicle trends these days seems to focus on light detection and ranging (LiDAR).

Wikipedia defines LiDAR as “a method for measuring distances by illuminating the target with laser light and measuring the reflection with a sensor.”

For the full automation of vehicles to happen, the AI needs to see what a human driver sees, and then do everything like a thousand times better. 

Several companies have been making moves recently, trying to gain prominence in the market, and this is a serious business. In a recent article, Automotive World calls it “....a technological arms race.”

How about a robot driver?

Imagine looking out the window of your SUV and seeing a robot in the driver’s seat in the next lane. Sounds like a scene from a sci-fi flick set far into the future. 

Well, the smartest minds on the planet actually did think of that. But the general opinion is that the quickest path to driverless cars is through AI.

Constructing a robot that is capable of performing the physical tasks associated with driving cars isn’t easy, on top of the AI software necessary to run it.

Every household doesn’t have an amazing robot that does all the chores; so it’s unlikely an army of driving robots will suddenly take to the roads in personal vehicles, taxies, buses, and transport trucks.

When will autonomous vehicles be on the roads?

If the predictions were right a decade ago, many people would own autonomous vehicles now. Due to serious crashes, that did not happen.

More people are opting for car ownership in 2020 to avoid taking public transportation. But one of the hard lessons of the pandemic has taught is that no job is really recession proof. As well, a three-month emergency fund isn’t nearly enough. So would the average person splurge on a high tech car in the next five years if it was available?

In the meantime, a lot more road testing has to take place for people to trust that autonomous vehicles are safe. 

Road conditions also have to improve, and the state of Michigan is already getting prepared. The governor announced plans in August to build roads just for autonomous vehicles. 

Laws would have to be changed; the insurance industry would undergo major changes and the big question…. Who would service all the autonomous driving vehicles? Vehicles would also need to communicate with each other, and not just the luxury or high-end models.

Despite all the challenges, at least one expert predicts self-driving cars will become a real thing in the next 10 years. 

But sorry — sleeping in your driverless car is still a long way off. 

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