The future has become the present! Cars that drive themselves is finally here. Once what looked like as science fiction, is now a reality. There was a recent video of a Tesla self-driving car which predicted an accident seconds before it happened. It’s crazy to imagine that technology has reached a point where self-driving cars is an actuality. Imagining a car without any pedals, a steering wheel, and a driver is hard, but seeing with your own eyes can be overwhelming. Audi, BMW, Ford, Nissan, and Volvo, some of the big names in the automobile industry are partnering with Google, Microsoft, Nvidia, Intel and other companies manufacturing products for the autonomous car to prepare for the next big step in the car industry. Moreover, companies are forming a coalition called Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, to quicken the process of getting autonomous cars into the market.


What is a self-driving car?

A self-driving car or an autonomous car is a vehicle which is aware of its surroundings and navigates without a human behind the wheel.

The working of a self-driving car

GPS units, navigation systems, and sensors utilizing laser, radar, and video, help autonomous vehicles to drive about and avoid colliding with other cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. These cars know their location and have a 3D image of the environment around the car. They use this internal map to find the best way to avoid all obstacles present. Once the best way is determined, this information is passed on to an actuator, which is responsible for controlling the movement of the car.

Advantages

Self-driving cars will have a huge impact in today’s world, making driving more convenient and hassle free.

1. Almost error free

81% of the car crashes are the outcome of human error. Allowing computers to take over driving can drastically bring down this number. Moreover, the number of people getting injured or dying due to fatal accidents will come down. Drivers won’t be distracted by what’s going on around them. The autonomous cars use algorithms to determine the ideal stopping distance, which will decrease the number of collisions.

2. No parking problem

Self-parking is a feature in autonomous cars. The passenger can get off at the destination and carry on with their lives while the vehicle finds a suitable spot to park the car. This aspect will be a time-saver for those who find it hard to park their cars or find a parking spot.

3. Complete freedom for passengers

One of the best traits of a self-driving car is the complete hands-free experience. With the focus taken away from driving, the passengers are free to do anything which would otherwise be deemed dangerous. Reading a book, talking on the phone, eating a meal, or even taking a nap are a few things people could do while they are going to their destination. What a wonderful world it would be, to have complete freedom to do what you want to do, without worrying about cops stopping you.

4. Everyone can use it

Whether people are differently-abled, fatigued, under-age, or old, autonomous vehicles will get them to their destination. You no longer have to worry about your grandmother reaching her home. It is all taken care off by the vehicle. If you like getting drunk on weekends, going back to your house will be a breeze.

5. Increased speed limits

At high speeds, even a small mistake from a human can result in a fatal crash. That is not the case for an autonomous car. Due to the lack of human intervention, these vehicles can operate at higher speeds as the reaction times of a computer is higher than that of a human. Raising speed limits on the road won’t be a problem as safety is improved.

6. Reduction in congestion

For these vehicles to operate efficiently, they need to communicate with other cars to identify traffic problems as early as possible. The sensors fitted in the cars will allow them to ride closer to other vehicles, increasing the number of cars per hour per lane. The need for traffic signals would be phased out, leading to lesser congestion on the roads.

Disadvantages

Nothing is perfect. An innovation which can make the world a better place to live in will have its downsides, even though it wasn’t intended to do so.

1. Loss of jobs in transportation sector

The biggest impact these vehicles will have is in the transportation sector. The jobs of drivers will be affected as they will become redundant with the release of autonomous cars. Unemployment rate and the economy will be adversely affected.

2. Cost of technology

Currently, the cost of owning a self-driving car is very high. Implementing new technology could be out of reach for most people as the equipment is expensive. Consumers wouldn’t want to shell out huge sums of money for a driverless car, and would rather opt to stick with the traditional car.

3. Vulnerability to glitches and hacking

The passenger is at the mercy of the software which controls the vehicle. Any glitches in coding can have huge effects on the driving ability of the car, resulting in car crashes, which can be more dangerous than accidents due to human errors.

Hackers in the past have shown that it is possible to take complete control of standard cars. In the case of autonomous vehicles, hackers can interfere with the operation of the car, which is a massive security concern at the moment.

4. Loss of privacy

These vehicles rely on location data provided by the GPS and information of the user to function efficiently. Driving habits, precise location, and daily routine are a few things self-driving car companies can access. What they choose to do with this information is a complete mystery. Privacy, a major concern in the internet age ceases to exist in this scenario.

5. Legal issues

Suppose the autonomous car meets with an accident, who is responsible for the damage caused? The company that manufactured the automobile or the owner of the car or the software developer who wrote the algorithm for the vehicle? How will a case be handled if a self-driving car was involved in a car crash? There aren’t any answers to these questions as of now which is a setback.

Regardless of the issues faced by autonomous cars, they are the future of driving. The promises offered by self-driving vehicles is enticing, making the future look bright if things go according to plan. The technology is still being tested to be road worthy as it isn’t perfect yet. Research and development in this field are progressing rapidly. A reality where self-driving cars are common isn’t far away.

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