Saturday, April 2, 2016

Self-driving cars sound scary but could actually be safer - April 1, 2016

It has been five years since Google stunned the world by showing how far along it was with its self-driving cars. Suddenly another invention, first seen in science fiction, seemed poised to become real.

During the intervening years we may have settled into the idea that true self-driving cars were still a someday thing.

Fully self-driving cars are not so much going to appear suddenly in dealerships, as gradually enter our lives. In reality, there are cars on the road now with self-driving capabilities.

Readers with some newer, high-priced vehicles already have some self-driving features.

Some cars have auto parallel parking, often called park assist. Ford, Lincoln, BMW, Range Rover, Nissan and Mercedes Benz have this feature. I’d have killed for this when I lived in San Francisco. I wonder if they can parallel park on the other side of the street on a 24-degree downhill. I can.

Autonomous self-driving cars have an extensive sensor array in the cars. These sensor systems are appearing now and are used in some cars not to control the car but warn the driver of conditions. Lane assist warns the driver if they are drifting out of their lane.

The sensors can also warn you if there is something in your blind spot as you are about to move over. Others will slow or stop the car if you approach too closely to the vehicle in front of you.

Active cruise control can slow your vehicle as it approaches cars in front and speed back up as traffic begins moving faster. Think how nice that would be on Interstate 95 creeping north in the morning. You still have to keep your hands on the wheel and actively drive, but it delegates one irritating portion of the effort of the commute to technology.

For a real, honest-to-goodness car moving on its own without a driver, there is the Tesla Summon Mode. Press a button on your Tesla phone app, and your Tesla will back out of your garage or park itself in your garage. It is perfect for people who have cramped garages where it is difficult to get into and out of their vehicles.

Tesla is working toward fully autonomous cars. Its top models have the sensors needed, and it is slowly upgrading its software in the cars to have more self-driving features.

I remember as a kid when high-end cars were the only ones with power windows. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find a car without them. Ultimately these driving-assist features will be available on all cars. For example, manufacturers have agreed to have auto braking on all cars by 2022.

The federal government has been looking into requiring new cars to have vehicle-to-vehicle communications at some point in the future. This would allow a car to broadcast to other cars, “Hey, I’m at this location, moving in this direction at this speed and I weigh this much.”

That way the computer in a car could have better situational awareness than it can gain from sensors alone.

The biggest obstacles to fully self-driving cars will be human drivers. An autonomous car will have a good idea what another autonomous car will do, but human-driven cars will be less predictable.

And a human in the self-driven car may decide they need to take over the driving, and that transition could potentially be dangerous. The person may not have the situational awareness because they have not been paying close attention to the road. Or, they may have had a couple drinks. A Google executive advocates, and Google is testing, a self-driving car without a steering wheel. Mercedes showed a concept car with seating arranged like a living room, with the front seats facing back so the people in the car can converse easily.

Ultimately, there will be mostly self-driving cars. Driving your own car will be akin to riding your own horse.

Uber is already shopping for 100,000 totally autonomous cars. Imaging clicking your Uber app and a car shows up to take you to work? Or have one scheduled to show up at the same time every morning?

Going on vacation? Uber sends an SUV or an RV. Need to make a run to the city dump? They will send a pickup truck. We will not own cars anymore, but instead subscribe to a vehicle sharing group.

And while there may never be roads without accidents and fatalities, 33,000 people die annually on the nation’s roads -- with 94 percent of those accidents being human error. Self-driving cars are going to drive like your grandmother, at the speed limit, politely, non-aggressively, but safer.

And ultimately faster, as situations that lead to congestion won’t occur. Self-driving cars won’t slow to gawk at an accident. The accident is even less likely to be there to gawk at in the first place.

To Share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and others, click the appropriate button below.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Like our Facebook Page to keep on Family Tech.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.