The driverless technology industry is booming and is expected to be worth £900 billion globally by 2025. We are used to seeing Driverless Vehicles in futuristic sci-fi films however due to the growth in the market it is looking increasingly likely that they will appear on our roads sooner than we think.
Autonomous car technology is already being developed and tested by the likes of Lexus, BMW, Tesla and Mercedes. Even technology giants such as Google are developing their own automated technology, and Apple is rumoured to be working with BMW on an automated car.
How do driverless cars work?
There are several systems that work in conjunction with each other to control a driverless car.
The most important part of a car is the driver’s eyes. When we take the driver out of the car, something must replace those eyes, and there are currently three types of technology that can do this: cameras, LIDAR and radar.
Driverless cars then use a series of these cameras and sensors to gather the information their computers need to make the maps useful. The sensors can tell how far away other cars are, see where the road stops and where lanes are, and how to park. The cameras look out for traffic lights, road signs and obstacles... including people.
The computer combines all this information and adds it to the map. The cars use their maps and computers to make decisions about how to drive safely.
What are the Pros?
In comparison to the myriad of bad behaviours a driver might exhibit behind the wheel, a computer is an ideal motorist. Since 81 percent of car crashes are the result of human error, computers would take a lot of danger out of the equation entirely.
Computers use complicated algorithms to determine appropriate stopping distance, distance from another vehicle and other data that decreases the chances of car accidents dramatically. Therefore, there would be a significant cost savings in many different venues like insurance costs and healthcare costs associated with accident recovery alone.
For the cars to operate most efficiently, they'd need to communicate with one another, helping to identify traffic problems or road risks early on.
Disabled individuals, who must rely on public transportation or assistance from others to get around, could reap the benefits of self-driving cars with new freedom and enhanced mobility, as suggested by the New York Times.
Over time, higher speed limits might be considered as an option if more people are using self-driving cars. Since the computers calculate operation of the vehicle safely, driving time could be reduced by faster speeds allowed on the road.
Police officer focus could be shifted from writing traffic tickets and handling accidents to managing other, more serious crimes.
Sensors in the autonomous cars allow vehicles to ride closer together, therefore allowing more cars on the road with less traffic.
Less parking structures and parking headaches would be required, since your car could drop you off and locate a parking space farther away.
Car insurance may eventually become extinct, or at least not billed to the consumer, since eventually the computer will be making all the decisions. Perhaps the premium will be paid by the car manufacturer instead of the driver.
What about the Cons?
Just having the ability to operate a self-driving car would require an education on the driver's part, according to Teletrac. While the computer takes over once the vehicle is operational, the driver would still be required to maintain some knowledge about how to operate it safely.
The cost of implementing the new technology could be out of reach for most people. Currently, the engineering, power and computer requirements, software, and sensors add up to more than £100,000.
The most savings in terms of cost, time, and lives is going to come from when more people "opt in" to the service. If self-driving cars are not adopted widely, accidents can and will still happen.
Even though there are concerns about the adequate nature of public transportation, self-driving cars would eliminate many jobs in the transportation sector, especially when it comes to freight transportation and taxi drivers. This could have a negative impact on the unemployment rate and the economy.
A self-driving car doesn't eliminate the likelihood of a car accident. In fact, there's no legal precedent for how a case would be handled. The difficult question of who holds responsibility in a car accident- the driver? The car manufacturer? The software developer? Could be tricky to answer.
The cars are not able to operate at a high level of safety in all weather conditions. In fact, heavy rain can do serious damage to the laser sensor mounted on the car's roof, calling into question what role the driver might have to play in the event the technology fails.
It's unclear how self-driving cars would manoeuvre through hazards or unique local driving laws. A good example is the difference between certain states in America regarding turning right on red. The computers could have difficulty identifying the different local and state rules with regard to the road.
Our Automotive Team
The Automotive Team here at Pioneer Selection are heavily immersed in this market already as autonomous capability is built into many vehicles currently on our roads in the form of self-parking, adaptive cruise control and assisted-braking. But they will be looking to delve further into this market as recent demonstrations have shown that fully autonomous vehicles are not only technically feasible but that they can operate successfully on ‘live’ roads.
However, the questions that still remain are; will consumers actually want to cede control of their vehicles? Can autonomous cars be truly safe in a world of variable driving conditions and human error? And what could it all mean for the future of the auto sector?