How Long Will It Take For Driverless Cars To Actually Work Publically?

Imagine a world where cars could drive themselves…While it’s true that driverless cars (or “Self-driving cars”) aren’t a new concept in our minds and cinema (futuristic movies have portrayed them numerous times), it is a very new idea for reality. Car makers are migrating toward a world rid of fossil-fuels, and progressing toward energy-efficient vehicles. Google is taking things a step further though, with driverless electric cars. Are driverless cars really such a bad idea? Will they make our roads safer, or even more dangerous? Consider history to help us determine the future: When has the adaptation of more advanced technology ever made our world more dangerous, outside of military weapons of course. I invite your case on that in the comments below.

Google’s ventured into the automotive world in a big way, and it’s making a splash in our entire ideology of travel on our public streets. The technology within the cars are constantly improving to develop strategies and safety procedures to handle the unexpected situations on the road today. It’s my belief that driverless cars can be an amazing gift to the consumer world.

Now only do these vehicles remove the need for fossil fuels, but they also remove the risks associated with distracted and impaired drivers. Among the leading killers in America, vehicle-related deaths is still a very large percentage. Will other manufacturers take initiative to expand on this technology for their future cars, or will they consider it a threat that needs government lobbying against it to shut it down? GM has even admitted that Google poses a serious threat to the automotive industry with this. Instead of seeing it as a threat, why not embrace and expand upon it?

Google tiny silver cars aren’t the only vehicles they have driving themselves either. Their technology has been adapted to a wide range of cars that are currently available today. In the video below, for example, you’ll see a more in-depth look at how the technology handles the complexities of driving within a mid-size SUV. It still has that goofy-looking “LIDAR” thing at the top helping to guide the way, but with technology advancing more and more in the future, there’s no reason why this cannot be integrated seamlessly within the vehicle in the future, perhaps without even being noticed or seen by the driver or those they’re passing by.

How driverless cars work

The primary reason this technology works as it does today is because of the spinning LIDAR turret on the roof of the car. This device effectively paints a 3D image of the world around the car with an infrared laser beam at high speed. The vehicle takes that information, and combines it with the data from the cameras around the vehicle, and GPS technology to drive itself safely on the road. It’s capable of navigating through construction zones, prepare for potentially dangerous situations and intersections quickly, and make intelligent driving decisions in reference to other unknown variables on the road and on the side of the road, such as bicyclists changing lanes, traffic cones, sidewalks, and of course, pedestrians. Computers also have an amazing advantage over human beings. They don’t get distracted by the simplest of things, don’t get impaired when tired or inebriated, and are capable of making decisions and reacting far more quickly than human drivers.

The car can also fine-tune it’s position by comparing its current LIDAR data to old 3D maps of the street that it’s on (data that’s already pre-loaded from Google maps). This helps it insure that it doesn’t drift out of it’s lane, and allows it to navigate in situations where GPS isn’t an option, such as parking garages and tunnels. It’s expansive knowledge of the data collected by Google over the years for maps is also present to allow the vehicle to know current speed limits and where to look for traffic signals. It’s arguable the most informed and experienced driver you can possibly have, not to mention the most alert.

Legal and special interest issues:

Obviously driverless cars are a serious thing to debate over. If adopted, they’d replace thousands of drivers around the world who make a living operating a vehicle. They also create a potential problem in terms of accidents: who would you blame when something does go wrong? Also, driverless cars are going to require major overhauls of a variety of systems that are already in place, to allow for current laws and traffic systems to accommodate a vehicle that doesn’t actually have “a driver” as we’re known to have today. For example, if something is faulty with a sensor on the vehicle, and it happens to run a stop-sign… does the driver get a ticket? What if it causes an accident… how does insurance treat the claim?

It would seem that in order for self-driving cars to become a big part of our lives, legally, we’re going to have to rethink, and potentially throw out old legal concepts that are place today, such as the human being in the driver seat being completely responsible for the actions of the vehicle.

One concern that I’ll have, and everyone else should have as well, is in regards to security. Today, when we talk about safety features, we usually refer to how well the care can handle itself in a collision, or how many airbags it has. With driverless cars, we introduce a brand new variable that is really only a concern with today’s most advanced vehicles: cyber security. With the increasing ease of computer hacking, more and more attention will need to be paid to the computer system and the programs running it to insure there’s no interference from outside sources. To help fight this potential problem before it gets out of hand, the technology driving these vehicles, and allowing them to even communicate with other vehicles on the road should be open-sourced, to allow for an entire world of programmers and people from all over the world to vet the code, patch up holes, improve features, and most importantly, allow for universal compatibility amongst auto-makers.

However… there in lies the issue: Auto makers don’t want universal compatibility. Doing so removes their ever important branding, and robs them of profits that can be associated with proprietary technology. I really think that this will be the biggest hurdle with this technology taking off: Can corporations allow their vehicles to be driven with open-source programming? My guess… not likely.

So how long will it take for self-driving cars to really become public, and popular throughout the United States and the modern world? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. If you haven’t gotten yourself caught up enough with driverless cars, and you want to learn more about Google’s project, you can watch more videos on their official YouTube channel for the project.

Charlie Pryor

Charlie is a media producer, writer, and a traveler. He grew up in Michigan, all of his life and attended Grand Valley State University for a B.S. in Film and Video Production. He's married to a wonderful woman named Hang, and simply hopes to one day turn himself into a man that many will remember long after he's gone.

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