In the 20th century, science fiction films popularized the idea of driverless cars, and manufacturers began experimenting with creating such vehicles. Using radar, GPS, and other technologies to sense their environments, autonomous vehicles are able to navigate roads without human drivers. Once implemented, self-driving cars can possibly create safer roads, due to the elimination of human error, and allow passengers to enjoy more leisure time.
After almost a century of experimentation, self-driving cars may soon become a reality. In December 2017, Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, declared that Tesla would launch a fully autonomous car within two years. Toyota and Nissan expect to release their first self-driving cars in 2020, and BMW’s “iNext” electric autonomous car is expected to be ready by 2021.
However, those cars will not be not the first of their kind. Self-driving cars have been around since 1999, but have never been released to the public due to safety issues. In 2005, the German news magazine “Stern” performed a series of tests on Mercedes vehicles with the Distronic system, which automatically adjusted the speed of the car to maintain a safe distance between other cars. Not all of the tests showed that the system allowed the car to brake in time. In March 2018, the first pedestrian was killed by a self-driving vehicle. Because of the high risk associated with autonomous cars, manufacturers have been cautious in releasing them for general public use.
As stated earlier, one of the major issues associated with these cars is safety. Some have expressed concerns with the cars’ inability to navigate chaotic traffic or city environments and the possibility of a system malfunction, which could both cause accidents and deaths. Many of these safety concerns regarding self-driving cars can be eliminated with human drivers. Additionally, autonomous cars are vulnerable to hacking through information shared on vehicle to vehicle networks. While self-driving cars could be an interesting technological innovation, right now, they do not effectively replace human drivers. Unless there are more safety measures implemented, it is unlikely to see the widespread use of driverless cars.
In addition, autonomous cars will displace millions of workers from their jobs. In 31 out of the 50 states, the most common job is driving. Almost three percent, or about 5 million, of all working Americans are drivers of some sort. For taxi companies like Uber, this means cheaper services because they will no longer need to pay drivers. However, millions of drivers across the nation will be unemployed by a robot that does not drive cars safely.
While it is apparent that more safety measures need to be implemented before driverless cars can be used, many major manufacturers have not addressed safety issues specifically. Instead, they emphasize the fact that their driverless cars are better than human drivers. For example, Tesla claims that all three versions of its driverless cars have a safety level “substantially greater” than human drivers do. Tesla’s cars boast a 360-degree-vision and claim to have processing powers better than those of a human. In addition, Tesla is experimenting with different levels of automation. It currently is developing an “Enhanced Autopilot” software that allows the human driver to maintain some control over the vehicle, allowing skeptics to take control if they wish to.
As of now, it is hard to predict the future of autonomous cars. If manufacturers continue to improve safety features, it is likely that these cars will become commonplace. Tesla’s first self-driving car is expected to be released in 2019; then we can see whether autonomous cars have improved features that allow them to replace human drivers.
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