More and more manufacturers entering the driverless car market

Gillian Ward

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Driver-less cars could greatly decrease the risk of accidents and traffic issues as well as increase fuel efficiency. They could benefit those with physical disabilities, impaired vision and the elderly who can’t drive themselves. They would also remove human error such as slow reaction and distraction, and give people more free time to read or work while they are in transit. According to The Australia Science Channel’s video titled “How do Driver-less Cars work?” many vehicle manufacturers such as Nissan, Audi and Volvo are already researching and developing technologies for driver-less cars. Other leading car manufacturers such as Google, General Motors, Ford and BMW have also “joined the race” to releasing driver-less and driver-assist vehicles (Gibbs “Self-Driving Cars: Who’s Building Them and How Do They Work?”). Some of these new technologies are even being implemented in cars on the market today. In spite of all these advancements, controversy has arisen debating whether or not driver-less cars will be safe.
Driver-less cars use different “senses” to produce a detailed image of the car’s surroundings. One of these senses is Lidar (light detection and ranging) which uses light pulses to measure distance. A GPS system is combined with tachometers, altimeters and gyroscopes to give the most accurate positioning possible. In addition, mounted cameras process road signs and the positions of other vehicles as well as pedestrians and obstacles. Radar sensors on the bumper also help to gauge the positions of other vehicles, and ultrasonic sensors measure even nearer objects, like curbs. All these sensors combine in the central computer that drives the car with a formal and informal understanding of road rules. (“Look, No Hands”, The Economist).
Most companies are trying to develop cars much like the ones we own today “…for individual ownership, but with the ability to drive themselves.” (Gibbs “Self-Driving Cars: Who’s Building Them and How Do They Work?”) However, others like Google would like to see cars without a driver’s seat that operate more like a mobile lounge. Testing for these cars has been in effect since 2012 on roads in Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan as well as in Europe and China. “ The most complex part of a self-driving system is the software that collects the data, analyzes it and actually drives the vehicle. It has to be capable of recognizing and differentiating between cars, bikes, people, animals, and other objects as well as the road surface, where the car is in relation to built-in maps and be able to react to an often unpredictable environment.”
Although no fully automotive cars are currently available features, such as parking assist, automotive breaking and adaptive cruise control are already available in many cars today. (The Australia Science Channel, “How do Driver-less Cars work?”) (Gibbs “Self-Driving Cars: Who’s Building Them and How Do They Work?”) One is Tesla’s Model S. This car’s advanced cruise control “Auto Pilot” uses cameras and radar to control the car’s speed and steering. This keeps it center in the lane, makes it react to other cars, and changes lanes on command. Volvo’s XC90 features can even keep the car from crashing into oncoming traffic or rear-ending other vehicles, and Mercedes’ Distronic Plus System prevents accidents by alerting the driver when something is detected in their blindspot.
However, the Tesla Model S has already had a fatal crash while in Auto Pilot. Speculations show that the death of Joshua Brown was caused by a large white trailer not being detected by this system. Other limitations of driver-less cars include a computer’s inability to detect “unpredictable urban conditions” that have heavy roadwork and unmarked lanes. (Solon “Why Self-Driving Cars Aren’t Safe Yet: Rain, Roadworks and Other Obstacles.”) More flaws in radar and sensors will include their difficulty to understand their surroundings in weather. Rain and snow can reduce the accuracy of Lidar and obscure camera vision. In addition, as cars become more advanced with more computers and internet connection, they also become more susceptible to hacking. This increases the danger of terrorism. Even the sensors on these cars prove to make safety more vulnerable. Jonathan Petit, security researcher, proved that Lidar can be tricked with a laser pointer into detecting nonexistent objects which could cause the car to swerve, slow down and/or stop.
After considering these hindrances, it is no surprise that more crashes have been reported from cars using new technologies. These include one of Google’s self-driving cars colliding with a public bus in Mountain View, California when it predicted the bus would yield, (Solon, “Why Self-Driving Cars Aren’t Safe Yet: Rain, Roadworks and Other Obstacles.” ) and a driver assist Uber hitting and killing a woman in Tempe, Arizona. If cars that only include some of the technologies made for driver-less cars are not safe, how can a fully autonomous car be safe?
Driver-less cars are not yet safe, but with more implemented technology and testing they may be road-safe in the years to come. “Many experts believe that full adoption of autonomous vehicles won’t happen until 2030, but some vehicles with self-driving capabilities are expected by 2020.” (Gibbs “Self-Driving Cars: Who’s Building Them and How Do They Work?”)
 
Works Cited
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8_FVmQ0f4U Gibbs, Samuel. “Self-Driving Cars: Who’s Building Them and How Do They Work?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 May 2016, www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/26/self-driving-cars-whos-building-them-and-how-do-they-work.
“Look, No Hands.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 1 Sept. 2012, www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2012/09/01/look-no-hands.
Solon, Olivia. “Why Self-Driving Cars Aren’t Safe Yet: Rain, Roadworks and Other Obstacles.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 July 2016, www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/05/tesla-crash-self-driving-car-software-flaws.
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