Submitted by Bryce Reed
We’ve all heard of them — cars that magically drive themselves without any input from the driver. For the past decade or so, they’ve been a controversial topic among both scientists and car enthusiasts. But so far, they have only been just that: an topic. The feasibility and solid time estimate for these devices have not been decided yet, and it’s not hard to see how it could be just another pipe dream for science fiction geeks. Still, with the recent introduction of mainline self driving car companies, we can’t just leave them up there with hyperspace travel and alien communication. Businesses are pushing hard, but the technology is pushing back.
The most recent stepping stone in self driving automotive was Toyota’s introduction of a 2.8 billion dollar software investment. To put that in perspective, Oprah’s net worth is about the same. Even so, they are far from the top competitors in the race. Waymo, Alphabet’s self driving car company, has managed the farthest distance traveled without a person behind the wheel. That record, if you’re wondering, is a little over 100 miles. It’s the closest competitor is GM cruise, which is trailing laughably behind. While many companies (including Tesla and Hyundai) have jumped on the automation train, these are the ones who have done the most worth mentioning. And the competition isn’t just corporate, but geographical. Arizona has looser regulations, but most of the main innovators are based in California. When examined from a certain perspective, the journey to self driving cars is not unlike the space race of the 20th century.
And like the space race, advanced technology must be created and understood in order to make this happen. The field in question is mainly artificial intelligence, and it’s recent influence expands far beyond self driving cars. People are already contemplating an automated future with advancements such as Amazon Echo and Chat Bots. At first, the AI was being used solely for “assisted driving”, which has already gained some traction. After all, adaptive front lighting systems and distance estimation technology have shown increased demand among drivers. It’s often hard to find newer cars without some form of extended service these days. But over time, we realized a need for more progress.
The more specific elements of this progress involve sensors, connectivity, and software/control algorithms. With connectivity, cars must be able to gain input from their surroundings. In order to achieve effective autonomy, traffic, weather, and surface conditions all come into play. With sensors, you can effectively monitor a blind spot, warn of front collision, and help people stay in the same lane. Many of these features are purely for safety; an area that human drivers even tend to struggle with. Finally, the algorithms are the most complex part of the equation. They are the means by which the car executes the other components, and acts according to the information gathered. The software must be robust and fault tolerant, especially with trust issues already plaguing the idea of a self driving car.
It is important to think about dates and projections when considering the future of new technology. Most notably, California recently made it legal to implement self driving cars without humans inside. It is seen by many as a giant first step in the direction of an autonomous road. To add to this, the state has given the green light for self driving cars to initiate road testing as early as April. Seven states have made self driving cars fully legal, while twenty one have already passed some form of favorable legislation. Even Capitol Hill is buzzing. The Senate has given clearance for a certain amount to be sold after they start going on the market. The CEO of Ford has said that this will most likely happen by 2020 (approximately 2019). When you look at all the actions being taken, it is quite obvious that the technology will soon be very real.
And a large amount of this is going on behind closed doors. After all, self driving cars aren’t a very popular topic of conversation for common folk. People talk about their iPhones, their regular cars, and their gaming systems. The complex workings of an artificial intelligence isn’t exactly basic knowledge. Neither are small Senate meetings and large company investments. Still, one thing’s for certain. The technology is going to hit soon, and it is only a matter of time before it takes the world by storm.
Submitted by Bryce Reed
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