Driving into the Future

If you are of the opinion that humans cannot outdo themselves, think again. If you think the human mind has reached its maximal ability to innovate and explore, think again. If you think the wheel is the greatest invention, and fire the greatest discovery, maybe you should think again?

The invention of the Diesel Engine by Rudolf Diesel could be considered as a turning point in human history. It paved the way for one of the biggest industries today: the automobile industry. The first car was patented by Benz in 1885 and we have come a long way since then. Today, you will find almost every second person behind a wheel. Countless varieties of cars exist, from Supercars and Formula One cars to SUVs and Sedans; from combustion engines, to hybrid and electric vehicles. But that is not all.

Driver error is the most common cause of traffic accidents. Cell phones, in-car entertainment systems, more traffic and more complicated road systems aren’t helping the cause either. Who is going to concentrate on the road then? If technological innovation were to take its course, your car will do that job for you. Automakers like BMW, Mercedes and Tesla are developing complex systems that allow cars to self-drive.

(Credits – phys.org)

Autonomous cars use a variety of technologies. They can be built with GPS sensing knowledge to help with navigation. They incorporate sensors and other equipment to avoid collisions. They also have the ability to use a range of technology known as augmented reality, where a vehicle displays information to drivers in new and innovative ways.

(Credits – Information Age)

There are 5 levels of Autonomy that have been laid down by SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers):

Level 0: No automation, driver is in full control

Level 1: Driver Assistance (Cruise Control)

Level 2: Partial Automation (Self- parking, Lane Assist)

Level 3: Conditional Automation (Human Intervention required)

Level 4: High Automation (in certain environments)

Level 5: Full Automation (100% automation, no human intervention required)

(Credits – The NRMA

Let us take a look around to try and figure out at what level we are in currently. We have already commercially reached level 3! Level 5 is our ultimate objective and we aren’t as far from it as one might have thought. Tesla has already introduced an ‘Autopilot’ mode in its cars, where the driver does not need to control the steering wheel or the pedals. The car takes care of these with the precision of a computer.

Driver-less cars haven’t been rolled out onto our roads yet. Why? The reason is quite paradoxical: humans. The way driver-less cars react to pedestrians is an even more critical issue, and one that will take extensive research and probably millions to get right. The current generation of self-driving Artificial Intelligence is competent, but the moral judgement and behavior of human drivers is difficult to replicate. However accurate a computer driven car might be, it cannot predict the unpredictable behavior of humans.

So how far away are we from a completely driver-less infrastructure? Far! But not too far. At the moment, driverless cars are only truly safe when tested and operated around other driverless cars in a controlled environment. For the next few years, we’ll benefit from partial autonomous technology such as lane-changing systems, crash-avoidance and post-accident braking. However, fully autonomous technology is much further away.

It turns out even the worst drivers can’t be matched by computers, yet.


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