Your hands are off the wheel. You are reclining peacefully with your seat laid back. Your car is moving and you along with it. How's that possible? Well, you just have to glide into the dreamy world of self-driving cars.
Yes, they exist. In essence, self-driving (also known as driverless cars) cars are cars that can sense their surroundings and move about safely with no need for any human input- drivers. Now the question is how these cars are able to do this.
The dazzling magic is in the sensors, which act as a kind of replacement for senses possessed by human drivers. Self-driving cars are equipped with some sensors that enable them to effectively perceive their environment without any drawbacks except in unfavorable conditions. The sensors are numerous and varied. They include:
- Radar sensors: These help the car to accurately detect motion. It makes use of Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) radar.
- Lidar sensors: To help the car determine ranges. It functions by directing a laser beam to an object and then measuring how much time it takes reflected light to return.
- Sonar sensors: Measure distances with the use of ultrasonic waves.
- GPS devices: For pinpointing location and navigating
- Odometry sensors: For estimation of change position over a period. This sensor makes use of data obtained by motor sensors.
These sensors are combined with actuators, complex algorithms, machine learning systems, and powerful processors that run the software that makes the driverless car work.
Self-driving cars in action
Self-driving cars exist in varying forms. The technology can be used in commercial transport like in the case of robotaxis - for automated deliveries and by individuals. While self-driving seems like a new concept, self-driving cars have been around for a long while. The very first self-driving car was produced back in 1939 by a man known as Norman Bel Geddes. It was showcased as a part of General Motors’s car exhibit at the time but unlike the self-driving cars of today- the car was driverless.
Brands like Tesla, Cruise, and Waymo have greatly improved driverless cars since then and one thing to note is that most of these modern versions are semi-driverless due to concerns like inadequate safety.
Why are self-driving cars still being developed?
We already love most of our automobiles. I mean they get us where we want to and many people have so much fun driving them that car racing is a sport. While this is true, there are several areas where driverless cars will offer a much better experience. Some of the notable areas are:
Greater safety: self-driving cars eliminate the possibility of human errors in driving which currently contribute to about 94% of car crashes. Adopting self-driving cars would ultimately result in fewer car-related accidents and deaths.
More Independence: Not everyone can drive cars without any hitches so not driving at all would make many people’s lives easier to live. People who have disabilities would be able to move around with little or no help in driverless cars. Seniors who find it hard to drive due to vision reasons or any other issue would also be able to gain more independence with driverless cars.
Decreased levels of congestion: normal cars are great and nice to drive but there is no denying that they lead to many traffic jams. With driverless cars, most of the delays and issues caused by high levels of congestion can be avoided. Driverless cars can lead to this shift because they would massively reduce the amount of stop-and-go waves, which contributes a lot to road congestion in many cities.
Environmental benefits: It is no secret that car emissions have significantly contributed to the detriment of the environment over the years. Self-driving cars are likely to tackle this issue because they reduce traffic jams and ultimately any useless idling of greenhouse gases. Another reason is that automation and car-sharing, which is made available with self-driving cars may lead to more demand for the cleaner and more beneficial electric powering of vehicles.
Why isn’t it available to us all?
If driverless cars have such a big advantage over conventional cars then why are they not in mainstream use? There are many reasons for this ranging from expense to government regulations. Here are the top 4 reasons why you will not be seeing self-driving cars on roads any time soon.
Cost of sensors: most sensors cost quite a lot, but lidar and radar, which are necessary for driverless cars, take things to a completely new level. They both cost a fortune and have still not been perfected. The sensors have not been developed enough to strike the correct balance between range and resolution. There is also the question of lidar signals from one self-driving car interfering with that of another. Availability of enough frequency range is also in question. All these need to be solved before self-driving cars can be produced en masse.
Unfavorable traffic conditions: traffic cannot only be annoying it can also be unpredictable. There are many situations such as bumper-to-bumper traffic, traveling through tunnels, navigation of bridges that are the norm for normal drivers.
Weather concerns: things can get very wet, covered in snow or there could be a foggy morning. Driverless cars would have a hard time navigating through these weather conditions because unlike humans these cars rely solely on things like signs and lane markings which would easily be obscured to guide their movement.
Emotional intelligence over Artificial: Human drivers are socially and emotionally inclined. They are well versed in making use of non-verbal language to communicate with pedestrians, other drivers and in gauge/understanding unique situations. Driverless cars on the other hand make use of their inbuilt artificial intelligence in all situations. The emotional intelligence gap has to be closed before self-driving cars can go mainstream.
The exciting possibility of a world of self-driving cars is incredible. Benefits aside, the prospects of getting a driverless car would be thrilling for anyone. Wouldn’t it?