Autonomous driving is a divided subject in the motoring industry. On one side, fans of autonomy claim that most road accidents are due to human error, while on the other, critics are quick to state their distrust in machine learning over fears of malfunctions.
Finding a true answer for this debate is complicated. Thus, we can only speculate as to what the future will look like with autonomy. While kinks are ironed out and bugs are squashed, the rest of the world must prepare itself for the arrival of autonomous cars.
So, what is autonomous driving? Are self-driving cars safe? When will self-driving cars be available? Here are some of the aspects preventing widespread acceptance of autonomous vehicles.
What is autonomous driving?
In pursuit of making everyday life less stressful, car manufacturers have been on a mission to give cars the ability to drive without human interaction. Achieved through a mixture of both deep learning integration and vehicle enhancements, autonomous driving is a way of adding increased safety measures to daily commutes through the likes of self-driving, lane assists, and parking aids.
To find out more about autonomous driving, have a read through our blog where we ponder the future of autopilot cars.
Are self-driving cars safe?
Road collisions are amongst the top ten causes of death across the world. More than 1.35 million people die from accidents with around 50 million people being subject to severe injury. These accidents are mostly caused by human error, with our driving abilities largely limited by reaction times and instincts.
Drunk drivers, texting and tiredness are amongst a few of the problems that impede our driving capabilities, which autonomous cars could cure.
When trained and given clearly defined instructions, autonomous vehicles become laser-focused on the tasks at hand. In this case, safely getting from A to B, while remaining completely uninhibited by thoughts, emotion, or fatigue.
Challenges preventing growth
Before self-driving cars can truly become widespread, there are multiple challenges that car manufacturers and researchers must address.
In 2018, an American pedestrian was killed in a crash involving a fully autonomous, self-driving Uber taxi. The incident sparked much debate into the viability of self-driving cars, revealing a divided take on the subject from onlookers. While Uber was not found criminally liable for the crash, the amount of damage caused to its brand prompted them to suspend all autonomous testing in the city where the incident took place, with the rest of their testing becoming severely reduced.
This crash understandably had a rippling effect on both the motoring community and society. It is just one of the roadblocks that fully autonomous driving faces if it is to ever be deemed as a viable mode of daily transport.
Moore’s Law states that while the cost of computers is halved, the number of transistors on a microchip should double every two years. This results in exponential technological growth every year, with almost all working industries becoming affected as a result.
Despite self-driving cars already being extremely intelligent, they are still many years behind what is needed before they can be truly used as a regular form of transport. They make frequent mistakes, perform inadequate evasive manoeuvres, and sometimes massively overcompensate for danger to the point where human interaction is a necessity.
Before self-driving can improve, technology has some major catching up to do. Only then are existing neural networks able to learn and develop at a greater rate.
The United Kingdom’s road network stretches approximately 262,000 miles, with each section of asphalt being clearly numbered and signposted for our eyes to see. Much of this network was developed between the 1950s and the 1990s, meaning that some layouts have been in place since just after World War II.
The world has changed in multiple ways since these road networks were planned, with some roads being simply too difficult for self-driving cars to comprehend. Inconsistent layouts, messy signage and poor visibility make it nigh on impossible for these vehicles to navigate.
Regulatory concerns with self-driving pose a valid ethical question to lawmakers across the globe: who is at fault in the event of an accident?
It’s a question that no one has been quite able to fully answer, but the closer we get to self-driving cars becoming the norm, the closer we are to addressing this fallacy.
So, are we ready for autonomous driving?
Unfortunately, as is the case with many of the questions surrounding fully autonomous driving, only time can tell when it comes to the safety of self-driving vehicles. This technology has much maturing to do before it is to become accepted by the masses, with many further technical issues serving to stunt its growth in the long-term.
While much has already been done to train thousands of vehicles that are currently on our roads, the biggest test lies within longevity and reliability.
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