As we all know, technology is something that has taken the world by storm in the last century, making significant and profound strides in the last 20 years. We have nearly unlimited access to the internet with our cell phones, virtual connections with people thousands of miles away, and even robots that replace mundane duties of humans. But what if we pushed that a step further and imagined our world in an even more technology-dependent state? Have you ever thought you might go to work or school in a car that drives itself? As crazy and as dangerous as this sounds, technological experts and engineers around the world are working toward innovating a vehicle that is autonomous, meaning a human is not required for it to drive.
Obviously this idea raises a lot of questions and concerns, largely pertaining to the safety of an autonomous vehicle. How could this even work? Is it possible to eliminate the potential dangers and risks of a self-driving car? Surprisingly, there are actually multiple companies developing technology, data, and processes to ensure the safety of these vehicles and the implementation of these vehicles into society may be sooner than we expect. Some of the companies that are leading the charge to vehicle autonomy include Waymo (branched off of Google), GM, Ford, Uber, Volkswagen and others, who are mostly branches or partners of other major car brands. These companies have used a variety of different technologies to optimize functionality in these vehicles. Self-driving cars usually include an internal map which is created by using sensors, lasers, radars, sonar technology, and cameras. All of this equipment and technology collect data so the internal software can process the information and create routes while also determining speed, acceleration, steering, and breaking. They also help the vehicle with prediction, distinction, traffic rules, and other obstacles or situations. While these have proven to be largely successful and reliable, our natural human response tells us it is likely impossible for technology or a robot to predict or avoid any and all circumstances.
Because of this, the concept of risk comes to mind. It is said that our perception of risk is significantly lessened when we ourselves are the drivers. It is increased when someone else is the driver, and therefore would be increased even more in a self-driving car. Humans tend to have more empathy and trust when it comes to human beings as opposed to machines, therefore for these to be integrated into society, the expectation is that they must be perfect or nearly perfect. Having the technology is one thing, having the acceptance of people is another.
So what is the argument for autonomous cars? How would they benefit us? Interestingly enough, one of the main arguments for self-driving cars is that they actually may be safer. If we “simply remove the possibility of fatigue or alcohol impairment in a driver, we have just knocked 45.5 percent off the fatality rate in the U.S.” (Vanderbilt). That’s quite a staggering number, but is it enough to convince the masses? It is hard to say for certain. Other possible benefits include accessibility for all (elderly, disabled), ability to save time by working in a car, and traffic efficiency. However, with benefits, there are always inherited disadvantages. These include cybersecurity concerns, loss of jobs for people who drive for a living, and costs related to implementation. Environmental impacts could go either way. If the cars are electric, this would be impactful for a sustainable future, but if they are gasoline powered, there may be even more miles driven and more carbon emissions released into the atmosphere.
Technology has truly transformed our world in remarkable ways and it’s possible this could be the next step. There’s a lot of controversy and speculation about the possibilities and benefits of self-driving cars and the only way to truly understand their impact is to see them integrated in our world. So, what are your thoughts about autonomous vehicles in our technological future?
Vanderbilt, Tom. “Autonomous Cars: How Safe Is Safe Enough?” Car and Driver, Car and Driver, Oct. 2017, www.caranddriver.com/features/autonomous-cars-how-safe-is-safe-enough-feature.
Rayome, Alison DeNisco. “Dossier: The Leaders in Self-Driving Cars.” ZDNet, ZDNet, 5 Feb. 2018, www.zdnet.com/article/dossier-the-leaders-in-self-driving-cars/.
“Self-Driving Cars Explained.” Union of Concerned Scientists, Union of Concerned Scientists, 21 Feb. 2018, www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/how-self-driving-cars-work#.WyP6c6dKhyw.