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  • Writer's pictureKailash Vaviya

Driverless Cars: Are We Ready for a Self-Driving Future?

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

We have all seen driverless cars in sci-fi movies like The Phantom Car and Knight Rider. But what we have seen in sci-fi movies is now a reality. We can easily find many examples of self-driving cars manufactured today, from Tesla to Ford. And it is not a new concept.

The concept of driverless cars has been around for several decades now. The UK’s Transport Research Laboratory started testing self-driving cars on its tracks as early as the 1950s. However, it is only recently that it has become mainstream. We can finally see some close-to-driverless cars on the roads. But are we ready for this driverless future?

These cars certainly have several benefits, but there are some cons, too. Let’s understand them separately and determine if we are ready for a driverless future.

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How Do Autonomous Vehicles Work?

Driverless or autonomous vehicles are the ones that can operate without any human intervention. They can travel from point A to point B without any human operator. But how do they do this?

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) work by using a combination of sensors, cameras, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), and artificial intelligence (AI). Each of these components fulfills different purposes.

Sensors allow driverless cars to see 360 degrees. It paints a 3D picture of the vehicle. The cameras help identify road signs, traffic lights, and objects or people on the track. Likewise, the LiDAR system helps identify how far a thing is. It sends laser pulses in 360 degrees and measures how long it takes them to reflect and return.

AI remains at the core and brings all those components together. For instance, the cameras take images of the surroundings, but AI helps understand the context of the scenery. So, if the image has a red traffic signal, the driverless car will identify it using computer vision and stop.

Additionally, AI predicts any object’s or person’s next movement based on his or her motion captured through cameras, sensors, and the LiDAR system. This helps prevent any collisions on the road.

Benefits of Driverless Cars

Driverless cars have several potential benefits that can simplify our daily lives. Here are some pros of self-driving vehicles.

Reduced Congestion

Imagine the traffic during peak hours on busy roads, and then imagine your car stuck in it. It can be frustrating, right? But AVs can help you prevent such scenarios. Road congestion results from a mix of human error and infrastructure issues. While driverless cars cannot do anything about the infrastructure, they can eliminate human error to reduce congestion.

Humans tend to change lanes and create stop-and-go waves. This can lead to increased traffic and congestion. However, driverless cars can follow strict rules and stay in the lane they are meant to be in.

Self-driving car using Google Maps

Moreover, they can also keep ample distance between the vehicles to eliminate stop-and-go waves. Developers can also build a communication to allow all autonomous cars to communicate with each other. This can reduce unnecessary braking and improve traffic flow.

They can also select an efficient route based on real-time traffic data. All of it can help reduce congestion on the road.

Environmental Gains

According to Our World in Data, transport accounts for around 20% of the global carbon emissions. Of this, around 74.5% of carbon emissions come from road vehicles.

Self-driving cars cannot eliminate vehicle carbon emissions, but they can certainly help reduce them. They can optimize driving patterns and reduce aggressive driving behaviors, both of which can result in efficient fuel consumption.

AVs can also analyze real-time data to find and select the most fuel-efficient paths for transport. For instance, they can analyze traffic flow, find congested roads, and reduce detours to save fuel and positively impact the environment.

Autonomous Delivery Vehicles

The volume of deliveries will continue to rise in the future as more and more businesses go online. This increases the need for delivery personnel, which can be costly for companies. Driverless cars can help overcome this challenge by delivering products to customers without the need for human resources.

We can already see many companies using these vehicles to deliver their products. One recent example of a retailer leveraging autonomous vehicles for delivery is Kroger. Kroger, a major grocery retailer in the USA, and Nuro, a US-based autonomous vehicle developer, have been in collaboration since 2018.

In 2022, they entered an extended collaboration where Kroger will continue using Nuro’s third-generation AVs to deliver groceries. What’s good about this is that it inspires many self-driving delivery vehicle developers to continue their quest to build advanced AVs.

Many businesses like Coco and Yandex are using robot delivery vehicles. As technology advances, we will soon witness driverless cars handling all the deliveries.

More Productivity

You can work on public transport when commuting to your office. But public transport drops you off at a general point, and then you have to use a different mode of transportation to reach your destination. But what if you can be productive in your private vehicle, and that too, without hiring a driver?

Autonomous vehicles can make that happen. The cars will drive themselves, so you can use this time for work, leisure, or relaxation. For instance, you can check your emails, make calls, or simply take a nap in the car while traveling to the office.

Dangers of Autonomous Vehicles

While AVs offer many benefits, they can also pose some risks. Here are some risks of driverless cars that we cannot neglect.

Unreliability

Although self-driving cars can accurately commute from one place to another, they are still machines, and we cannot rely entirely on them. You can see that from the example of one of the first self-driving car accidents, where a self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in 2018.

Another incident happened recently where a Waymo-enabled self-driving car killed a dog. Although the vehicle correctly recognized the dog, it couldn’t stop before hitting the dog.

It’s not only about the accidents; some legal concerns arise, too. For instance, in the case of an accident, who should be held responsible: the manufacturer, the car owner, or the person sitting inside the vehicle?

Driverless vehicles promise a future with less congestion, fuel efficiency, and fewer accidents resulting from human error. But every now and then, there are some incidents involving self-driving cars that make us doubt this vision.

Vulnerability to Hacking

autonomous car

Autonomous vehicles are connected to the internet for communication between different components like cameras, sensors, LiDAR, etc., of the car. And every device connected to the internet is also hackable. This can pose a fatal risk to people traveling in an AV.

Any skilled hacker can get into the car’s system and control it. He or she can then use it to make a collision, which can be fatal for the rider and others on the streets. Moreover, the hacker can access the owner’s personal information if it is linked to the driverless car.

System Malfunctions

Like any other electronic device, even self-driving cars can malfunction. Since AVs are built with a combination of multiple systems, crashing a single system can impact the entire vehicle.

That’s precisely what happened during the accident of 40-year-old Joshua Brown in 2017. A self-driving Telsa in auto-pilot mode ran into a white truck in Ohio. Tesla said its camera could not detect the white truck against a bright sky, leading to the accident.

Job Losses

Autonomous cars can also result in job losses. Many individuals, from drivers to delivery men, can lose their work if driverless cars become a full-fledged reality. Additionally, since driverless cars can park themselves, valet service providers will run out of jobs.

Final Verdict: Are We Ready for a Driverless Future?

We are not yet ready for a driverless future, and that’s the harsh reality. Self-driving cars offer several benefits but are still far from mainstream. However, it can be a reality someday as technology advances and AI becomes more accurate at identifying even fast-moving objects. But for now, the destination of the driverless car journey seems far away.

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