Amidst innovation and safety issues, self-driving cars are ready for testing
The first in-car navigation systems appeared in 1995. Ten years later, Lexus introduced the first self-parking car. Recently, on April 2, 2015, a self-driving car successfully crossed the United States, autonomously driving from San Francisco to New York in nine days. At this rate of progress, it’s quite clear that in another ten years’ time, the first commercial self-driving cars will begin appearing on the market.
Indeed, all the technology is in place and ready. We have sensors, cameras, on-board navigation systems and computer power that dwarf those used to put man on the moon.
Studies conducted by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that human errors are to blame for nearly 94% of all car accidents. And that is one good reason to take humans away from behind the steering wheel. Moreover, we all know how much time we spend – often waste – driving around. It is estimated that driverless vehicles would save us up to six weeks per year. And imagine what that kind of savings would mean for a business.
So, the question is why do we need to wait for another decade before seeing a self-driving car on the market? Indeed, there are a number of good reasons, ranging from legislative permits and insurance liability issues to technological infrastructures and safety.
What happens when a vehicle computer is taken over by a virus? What happens if an operational system “freezes”? Or, more mundanely, what happens when a car is confronted by a situation that it does not understand? What are the emergency routines? If a car is driving down a highway at 100 km/h it can’t just come to a complete standstill. Our technology is extremely advanced, but fundamental refinements in artificial intelligence need to be put into place before these vehicles will be able to take to the road.
Insurance is another key issue. All test vehicles will have to be equipped with a full telematics system to determine liability in case of an accident. In fact, along with a host of other important data, a black box will be able to clearly indicate whether the car was moving autonomously or was controlled by a driver at the moment in which an accident occurred.
Last, but not least, we come to legislation. Most European member states have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which requires that every moving vehicle have a human driver. The UK, however, which never ratified this convention, is set to begin testing self-driving cars in Coventry, Bristol and Greenwich by this summer.
As Elon Musk, the visionary CEO of Tesla Motors, points out: “They used to have elevator operators, and then we developed some simple circuitry to have elevators just automatically come to the floor that you’re at … the car is going to be just like that.”
For further information:
- The Promise of Insurance Telematics
- Driverless Car Beats Racing Driver for First Time