With Autonomous Features Making Cars Safer, Will We Ever See Self-Driven Cars?

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For the past few years the industry has been waiting and waiting to see which company would be the ones to release the first completely autonomous car. Sure, the delivery and public transportation space have a few entries they’re working with, but there aren’t any completely autonomous cars available for consumers yet.

However, in the space of time waiting for self-driven cars to become available for consumers, autonomous features have been added to cars. In the process, this has made human-driven cars safer. Will this negate the desire for autonomous cars?

Safer Human-Driven Cars

Let’s face it, while many people marveled at the thought we will someday have autonomous cars, the closer it gets to reality, the scarier the idea seems. Throw in several news stories about self-driving cars crashing, and that kills the awe factor.

But during this time many new cars are being released on the market that while requiring a human driver, also have autonomous features. The biggest, of course, is Tesla, which has the Autopilot feature. It requires the human driver to stay focused on the road, yet the car can completely take over the task of driving.

For several years now some cars have had the feature to parallel park for you. Who doesn’t enjoy that? Frankly, it’s a dying skill anyway and isn’t even taught in many driving programs anymore. My adult children did not learn it in their driving lessons and didn’t have it on their driving tests.

Other autonomous features being utilized have safety in mind as they utilize the best part of autonomy while also still using human awareness. Perhaps that’s the best of both worlds, so to speak.

“We are sentient beings, and we have the ability to reason from first principles, from scratch if you will, while AI, on the other hand, is not conscious and doesn’t even understand what it means that there’s a physical world out there,” explains Raj Rajkumar, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. The school collaborates with General Motors.

Along with the automatic parking feature, cars also have automatic emergency braking (AEB), a feature that allows a car to stop on its own if it senses you’re about to hit another car or a person or other object. This is said to reduce rear-end crashes by 50% and more than 50% for crashes with injuries. The National Transportation and Safety Board believes it will eventually reduce fatalities and injuries from rear-end collisions by 80%.

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There are different levels of autonomous features from zero to five. Along with AEB, other Level 1 autonomous features include lane-departure warnings, blind-spot detection, and reverse automatic braking. Collectively, these are known as advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS.

Some Level 2 features are being incorporated into cars as well. These include accurate maps that cars use to navigate along with GPS and other location tech. These maps are included in the newest Nissan Rogue, Leaf, and Altima cars with the ProPilot Assist system. The map system is also included in the new Audi A8.

As with Tesla, these features will drive for you, but they require you to stay alert and with your hands on the wheel. Some systems even check on you with cameras while the car steers itself.

While some camera-based sensors have difficulty determining poor lane markings, Cadillac’s Super Cruise has maps that are so detailed, they know where the lanes are, regardless of how well they are marked.

Ian Reagan, a senior research scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety points out that self-driven cars are supposed to be safer as they are programmed to drive more conservatively than humans tend to. Yet, there isn’t enough data to know how much effect that will have on overall safety.

Nissan will make ProPilot a feature in all vehicles and expects to ship 1 million vehicles with the system in 2021. GM is getting ready to introduce the Super Cruise system that includes ultra-detailed road maps for all Cadillac models in 2020. Ford started offering its own self-driving system with adaptive cruise control with lane centering as an option. Honda and Toyota offer ADAS on most of their new vehicles and some form of adaptive cruise control is offered on many as an option.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Cars and Safety?

Researchers at Cleveland State University believe that by 2020 10 to 30 percent of all vehicles will be self-driving. But this is Level 4, meaning in geographically-constrained areas that only operate in good weather. Level 5 isn’t even on the horizon at this point.

This leads to the question of whether cars will just continue to employ more autonomous features to keep human-driven cars safer or whether there will eventually be a turnaround to that Level 5 completely autonomous car. What do you think? Tell us in the comments below.

One comment

  1. I think you should have explained better what each Level entails.

    “Tesla, which has the Autopilot feature. It requires the human driver to stay focused on the road, yet the car can completely take over the task of driving.”
    A stupid attitude by Tesla. If the human driver has to focus on the road at all times, then what is the use and the purpose of AutoPilot?! I was under the impression that the idea and goal of autonomous cars is to eliminate the human interaction. Unless they are actively involved in the task (driving) humans cannot stay focused on that task. Even when actively driving a car many people get bored and start doing other things (reading a paper, texting and making phone calls, eating, putting on makeup, programming the in-car entertainment center, etc)

    A person will be driving down the Interstate for 2-3 hours. A perfect time to use Tesla’s AutoPilot so they engage it. But then they sit there, waiting to MAYBE take over for the AutoPilot. What are the chances of them getting bored, losing focus, or just trusting the AutoPilot completely and falling asleep? Studies have proven over and over that maintaining focus for long periods of time is stressful. The safety improvements you have mentioned, ADAS, have totally taken those function out of the human driver’s hands. They do not need constant human oversight. AutoPilot is a good concept that is not ready for prime time by a long shot.

    “These include accurate maps that cars use to navigate along with GPS and other location tech.”
    Great idea that needs some tweaking. In our area there are some badly designed grade crossings where a car can bottom out and get hung up. Every year at least one a car gets hit by a commuter train because the GPS instructed the driver to use that crossing. I’m sure that there are similar situations all across the US. The GPS software needs to be updated.

    “Researchers at Cleveland State University believe that by 2020 10 to 30 percent of all vehicles will be self-driving. ”
    Good luck with that! It is now middle of 2019 and the only fully self-driving vehicles are on test tracks or running under strictly controlled conditions.

    The way I see it, the only way we can have what you call Level 5 vehicles is if we remove ALL human controlled vehicles from the roads. The reason is that the current vehicle controlling AI, and I suspect for quite a while to come, is not “smart” enough to contend with all the possible stupid human tricks. Even humans are not smart enough. Self-driving vehicles can only be viable in a controlled environment in which they only interact with other predictable self-driving cars. For Level 5 vehicles to be successful we may also need some kind of centralized control (a super computer?). These vehicles can be self-driving but cannot be fully autonomous because then we will be, paradoxically, in the same pickle we find ourselves in now. Cars running around willy-nilly.

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