The automobile has been around for well over a century, and the industry has been advancing many facets of the driving experience – power, efficiency, safety, comfort, and convenience, to name a few. Indeed, aside from styling changes, one can find quite a few differences between today’s cars and those of fifty, twenty, or even ten years ago.
For example, some modern hybrid cars get up to 50 mpg, plug-in hybrids topping 100 mpg, while very few cars from the 1950s could top 30 mpg. Similarly, with a full suite of airbags, seatbelts, crumple zones, stability control, and more, a crash in a modern car is far more survivable than in cars from even ten or fifteen years ago.
We could go on and on citing the merits of modern cars over their ancestors, but we still have a way to go. In spite of all these advances, millions of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians die and perhaps tens of millions more are injured in automobile-related accidents. Traffic congestion continues to be a major problem in our biggest cities, which leads to said accidents, not to mention adding to vehicular emissions and increasing the risk of health problems.
Driverless Cars – A Better Automotive Future?
Even if drivers don’t care to admit it, drivers are a problem. Whether it be a lack of training, experience, sleep, or fellow feeling, drivers cause more accidents than anything else. Bad weather doesn’t cause accidents, but driving too fast or not properly equipping the vehicle can. Traffic congestion doesn’t cause accidents, but impatience and inattention can. Really, the only things left are mechanical failure and wild animals, which cause a very few accidents on the road today.
For some forward-thinking people, taking the driver out of the picture could solve most, if not all, of the problems drivers face on the modern roadway. Driverless cars, also called autonomous vehicles, robotic cars, or self-driving cars, do exactly that – They remove the driver from the equation. Without a poorly-trained, excitable, and tired human being behind the wheel, a number of accident-causing factors can be eliminated.
Driverless Cars – Ongoing Developments
Autonomous vehicle technology isn’t new, really, some of which has been in development since as far back as the 1980s. Most modern vehicles already have much in place to make driverless cars a reality. Sensors, including cameras, sonar, radar, and laser ranging, already give the modern car a good idea of what’s going on around it. Actuators, such as the throttle, steering, and braking are already electronically controlled. In the last decade, particularly, numerous advances in camera and sensing technology and programming has made the autonomous vehicle a reality.
There’s at least a couple of problems with driverless cars. The technology isn’t perfect and it’s still in its infancy – it can’t see and react to every conceivable situation. Still, many figure that it can handle much of the driving that we do every day, perhaps some of the most dangerous, such as distraction-inducing long commutes. The major problem with driverless car technology, however, isn’t the technology. Drivers and regulators need to catch up, and that might take even longer to develop than the cars themselves. Given all the development, field trials, and proofing that’s going on in the industry, there’s no doubt that driverless cars are coming. Some automakers and developers expect to see fully-autonomous vehicles on the road as soon as 2020, though how soon before they hit the mainstream is difficult to tell.Tags: Driverless Cars