Self-driving cars are coming – are you ready to give up the wheel?
Some people relish the idea of sitting back and reading a book while the car drives. Others feel a bit squeamish about it. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, there’s no avoiding the fact: self-driving cars are coming.
Self-driving cars on the rise
In reality, self-driving cars are already here. Many contemporary vehicles – including models from Nissan – are equipped with semi-autonomous features. But that’s just the beginning. The rush is on to create cars that will take over driving duties completely.
Levels of autonomy
There are six levels of vehicle autonomy as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
Level 0: This is the type of driving provided by older vehicles and modern, “stripped-down” models. The driver is 100% responsible for steering, accelerating, braking and navigating traffic.
Level 1: Many vehicles today are equipped with level 1 autonomy. At this stage, the vehicle can either steer or accelerate by itself under certain conditions. Although, it can’t do both at the same time. The driver performs all other aspects of driving. Modern driver assistancetechnologies, such as adaptive cruise control, are good examples of level 1.
Level 2: At this level, the vehicle can steer, accelerate and brake by itself under the right circumstances. The driver typically has to keep one hand on the steering wheel to inform the vehicle he or she is paying attention. Nissan ProPilot Assist is an example of this type of system.
Level 3: The driver can take their hand off the wheel, once the vehicle has reached level 3. The human co-pilot is only called upon when the car encounters a situation it can’t navigate.
Level 4: At this stage, things get real. The car can drive completely by itself under nearly all circumstances. Only a select few situations are left to the human driver.
Level 5: There’s no human navigation needed at this level. The car does its own thing – all the time. It only requires a destination to be entered by the driver.
How a self-driving car works
Every autonomous vehicle is unique. There is, however, a common formula for assisted driving. Most level 4 and level 5 machines operate by performing the following steps:
Data input: The vehicle starts by collecting data from its surroundings via sensors. Some devices used by vehicles to “see” the world include radar, lasers, cameras and sonar.
Map creation: Using the data that’s collected, the self-driving car creates and maintains a map of the world around it.
Information processing: Advanced software then plots a course. It also sends instructions to the vehicle’s computer-controlled outputs, such as vehicle speed, acceleration and braking. As a result, the car is able to chug along, while continuing to use its sensor and software to monitor the road ahead.
Self-driving cars – pros and cons
Like anything else, autonomous vehicles have their benefits and drawbacks.
Here’s the good:
Safety: Contrary to what the media would like you to believe, self-driving cars are actually quite safe. Especially when compared to unpredictable, human drivers. Autonomous vehicles could greatly increase overall vehicle safety.
Mobilization: Assisted driving could provide a new means of transportation for the disabled and elderly.
Reduced emissions: Most high-level autonomous vehicles are either hybrid or full electric. If this trend continues, self-driving cars will have a positive impact on the environment.
And then there’s the bad:
Increased legislation: Along with self-driving cars comes the legislation needed to make them road-worthy. Rules and regulations must be put in place to govern autonomous vehicles, and to decide where the fault lies should an accident occur.
Job loss: Many taxi and ride-share drivers may find themselves out of a job when autonomous technology becomes mainstream. The upside is, more jobs are likely to pop up in the tech industry.
When will self-driving cars be available?
Fully autonomous vehicles are being tested at locations throughout the world, and semi-autonomous vehicles are already at your local dealership. Exactly when you’ll be able to take a nap on the interstate – well, that just depends on how quickly legislation catches up with technology.