Self-driving cars are coming! They’ll be here in 3-5 years, or maybe 10. The opinions of automotive experts and futurists on the advent of self-driving cars vary, but the consensus is that the time is near. Pilot programmes for autonomous fleets of freight truck and driverless taxi pilot services are on the go around the world, while testing continues on a variety of self-driving car platforms and solutions.

 

SAE J3016 International Standard

Indeed, some commercial cars already claim to be self-driving and more will continue to appear on the market. These first vehicles are classified as level 1-2 by the SAE J3016 International Standard in which levels 0-2 are characterized by the presence of a human driver who must still monitor the driving environment, while levels 3-5 describe a technology in which autonomous artificial intelligence systems are responsible for all driving and monitor activities.

By level 3 of this standard, cars will be considered autonomous, but it will not be until we reach level 4 or 5 that humans can stop monitoring vehicle movement and turn to other activities. And until then our cars will continue to look pretty much like every child’s drawing of a car over the past fifty years.

 

Redesigning Cars

However, once humans are completely removed from the driving equation, cars will no longer require a steering wheel, a stick shift and accelerator and brake pedals, nor will passengers necessarily have to continue facing forward. Our cars will be free to be redesigned as they never were before as mobile lounges, offices and even as bedrooms or gyms!

The standard claim is that the rise of smart, self-driving vehicles will reduce road accidents by as much as 90%. Nonetheless, the risk of collision will never be fully eradicated, at least not in the short term while hundreds of “traditional cars” continue to be driven by humans. The bottom line, however, is that vehicle safety devices will remain fundamental in the future, too.

 

Seatbelts

Although seat belts were invented in the mid-nineteenth century, their adoption was extremely slow. Indeed, they were not mandatory in many European countries until the early 90s. However, correctly using seat belts reduces serious crash-related injuries and deaths by as much as 50%. And whichever way a seat is facing, a seat belt-remains an invaluable safety aid. Whether our vehicles are transformed into movie-viewing dens or offices, wearing a seat belt would continue to protect our lives.

Moreover, the promise of future vehicles to integrate miniaturised biometric sensors for health monitoring in seat belts adds extra value to the continued presence of these life-saving devices.

 

Airbags

Airbags were first patented in the early 1950s, but they were not adopted by the automobile industry until many decades later.

Airbag systems, which consists of an airbag cushion, a flexible fabric bag, an inflation module and an impact sensor, are designed to inflate extremely rapidly upon collision or sudden deceleration to cushion the driver and passengers, restrain their movement and prevent impacts or impact-caused injuries.

Air bags provide a wide variety of safety solutions - not just the standard frontal facing airbag, but also side airbags, curtain airbags, knee airbags, seat airbags and centre airbags - to protect individuals from a variety of different hazards posed both by vehicle parts and other passengers. Some vehicles are fitted with airbags that inflate on the car hood to protect pedestrians and bike and motorcycle riders. And just like seat belts, air bags will continue to provide vital safety even in the future.

 

Towards Infinity and Beyond

Although seatbelts and airbags may well be considered legacy technology in the near future, they will most probably remain fundamental to protect human lives, even in a future landscape of smart cities, sensors, sentient devices and artificial intelligence platforms that promise to make accidents and collisions a thing of the past.

 

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