Do you guys remember Herbie? Yes, Herbie. The white Volkswagen Beetle that had a mind of its own and could drive itself in the 1968 classic “The Love Bug”. With the advent of artificial neural networks and Artificial Intelligence in Self-Driving Cars, we got a little closer to developing vehicles like Herbie himself. (Well, not exactly)
Let me explain.
Artificial Intelligence in Self-Driving Cars
Autonomous or Self-Driving vehicles can be defined as vehicles that can monitor their environment and maneuver themselves with minimal or no human interaction. (Source: Wikipedia)
Popular examples of automotive manufacturers that include artificial intelligence in self-driving cars as part of their vehicles as of 2019 include household names such as Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Volvo. Another major player in the autonomous car market is electric car makers Tesla led by the ever-influential and ambitious Elon Musk. (Source: Autoradar)
Apart from this, Google was actually one of the first players in the autonomous vehicle game. Then again, how did you not expect them to be? Google is everywhere. (Leave your conspiracy theories in the comments section)
So remember when I said we haven’t exactly reached the levels of true autonomy in vehicular transport?
Well, that’s because currently the technology so far has limited us to semi-autonomy for mass-production passenger vehicles. What that basically means is that the artificial intelligence in our cars can sense lane markers on the road, vehicles around us and the driver’s interaction with the car among others. Cars can stay in lane, keep a distance from other vehicles on the road and make sure drivers stay aware of surroundings. Some artificial intelligence technology in cars notifies drivers to touch the steering wheel every few minutes to ensure that the driver hasn’t fallen asleep or suffered a medical emergency. In such a case, the car can stop itself on the side of the road and contact medical and law enforcement personnel.
How Does a Self-Driving Car Work?
Depending solely on the choice of the manufacturer, Artificial Intelligence in Self-Driving Cars cars can use a variety of sensors such as lasers, radars, cameras, and even sonar. What these sensors do is create a map of their surroundings and send the information to artificial intelligence software that has been coded into the computers present in the vehicles. Using various algorithms for avoiding obstacles, object differentiation and many more, the vehicle is able to perform various tasks such as lane assistance, accelerating and decelerating, distance maintenance as well as stopping. (Source: ucsusa)
Are Self-Driving Cars Legal?
The simplest answer is YES. But it’s more complicated than that.
Fully autonomous mass-produced cars are mostly not legal for use on public roadways. For example, the ParkShuttle (credited as the first truly autonomous car) transported people within confined areas on specially designed roads because it required special magnets to be embedded into the road for it to function. (Source: Wikipedia)
(Wait. Magnets? What magnets? Don’t worry about it. It’s irrelevant outdated technology that doesn’t concern the Artificial Intelligence in Self-Driving Cars car that you spotted in your last sci-fi blockbuster)
There are certain places around the world where fully autonomous vehicles are allowed to roam but much like the ParkShuttle, they are limited to these small pockets of the world.
Semi-autonomous cars, on the other hand, are completely legal. The technology has been active on public roads and is not as dangerous as cars that move around by themselves.
Like every other piece of new technology with a large impact, fully autonomous vehicles will need some time to be accepted by lawmakers and governing bodies around the world.
Now, let’s move onto the biggest hindrance to their legality…..
Safety of Self-Driving Cars
The safety rates of self-driving cars can’t really be put into numbers as we haven’t quite reached a saturation point where enough data can be gathered to provide such a statistic. With any technology, be it an autonomous car or your washing machine, there is always a possibility of a machine faulting.
With semi-autonomous cars, although there have been incidents of faults all around the world, it can be said that they are nearly as safe as regular cars that are operated by human “pilots”. Most semi-autonomous cars provide layer upon layer of safety technology to keep drivers and pedestrians alike from harm.
On the other hand, fully autonomous vehicles are a little more tricky to deal with. Following an accident with an Uber autonomous test SUV which struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, USA, there have been major doubts over the safety of this technology. (Source: Techcrunch)
Despite this, research hasn’t stopped. Automakers and tech companies alike are working together to perfect the technology to convince legislators that it is where the future is heading. Automotive behemoths General Motors mention in the 2018 Self-Driving Safety Report that they envision a future with “Zero crashes, Zero emissions and Zero congestion”. (Source: General Motors)
Ambitious? Not at all.
Yay or Nay?
At FaceX, as innovators and engineers ourselves in the field of artificial intelligence, we fully support the advancements of artificial intelligence in self-driving cars. We build for the future so that we can progress as an intellectual society. Yes, there are a few kinks that researchers and automakers have to tweak to perfect the self-driving technology but it’s just a matter of patience.
We don’t build, innovate and engineer just for tomorrow. We look to create technology that can provide for our society for a whole generation. And what do we do after that? We create some more.