By when can we expect to have driverless cars?
The global research and consulting firm of Frost & Sullivan believe that autonomous cars will rule the highways within the next 10 years. But before it actually happens, there are significant barriers needing to be faced between driverless vehicles and public roads.
Is it the future yet? People from the past century were having visions of a world of tomorrow with roads flying in the sky, filled with fully autonomous cars communicating with each other independently to avoid collisions and eliminate traffic jam.
Vehicle manufacturers and technology firms are heavily investing into research and development in order to make those visions a reality of our century. We may not be there yet, but in fact, it is now common in new vehicles to have some form of autonomous control: to help parking, to prevent collisions and alert against unintended lane departures.
What level of automation are we talking about?
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), an American company which is global leader in technical learning for the mobility industry, has classified vehicle automation in six distinct levels:
Level 0: No Automation - The driver of the car has to control every aspect of it.
Level 1: Driver Assistance - One or more “semi-autonomous” systems are in place to assist the driver, such as emergency braking.
Level 2: Partial Automation - The driver must be prepared at all times to take command, but systems to control steering, braking and acceleration allow the vehicle to navigate the road.
Level 3: Conditional Automation - The vehicle is able to navigate the road and the driver need only respond to requests to intervene.
Level 4: High Automation - The vehicle can start and complete an entire trip on its own without human intervention.
Level 5: Full Automation - The vehicle only operates autonomously and is not equipped with manual controls.
Cars with a level 2 of automation are already available all around the world now. Electric Tesla models are made their names around the world for their “Autopilot” autonomous control, which allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel and their feet off the pedals while their vehicle scans the road ahead for lane markings, street signs, other vehicles and pedestrians.
What could be the benefits and the concerns of driverless cars?
Ideally, a fully functional level 4 or 5 autonomous cars should be far safer than a manually operated vehicle. Why? Because the human input during the operations of the car is reduced to its maximum! Meaning: a vast majority of collisions are due to a human error, thus eliminating the human factor should, in theory, reduce the risk.
Further benefits could include reduced gridlock (and emissions) and improved accessibility for people who require transportation but are unable to drive.
From a business point of view, drivers’ productivity should also be enhanced as they will have the opportunity to complete paperwork, check emails and make phone calls during their daily journey.
Of course, there are also some concerns to overcome. Questions about legal liability, privacy, insurance costs and regulations are especially rising: driverless vehicles are a new addition to an existing and rather complex transportation system. Because this concern never existed before, there is no clear framework for regulating the sale and operation of fully autonomous vehicles.
There is also an ethical dilemma at play: will an autonomous car behave to firstly protect itself, its occupants or the vehicles and pedestrians in its path?