In 2009, a race began that would shape our future in travel, industry, leisure and transportation, The driverless cars has always been the stuff of science fiction. We can go all the way back to The Love Bug (1969) and remember the lovely VW Beetle or the Kit Car in Knight Rider (1982) to see how fantastical the idea was.
However, as the 20th century closed and we ushered in the next post-millennium era, the concept of driverless cars was not so foolish after all. The Fifth Element (1997) sees Bruce Willis jump into a taxi with a holographic driver.
I, Robot (2004) and Ender’s Game (2013) also have that vision of the driverless car becoming an important, everyday part of our lives. The market for this new era of transportation is said to be worth trillions. But it just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast.
A decade into the race for driverless cars to be mainstream and working on our roads, has hit many hurdles along the way.
The Perception of the Public
The very people who would be using this technology (you and me) are far from convinced about it all. Particularly when you think that tests on driverless cars have only really taken place on wide open forecourts and runways. Throw them into the mix on a public highway and few motorists would consider driving anywhere near it (assuming they knew where it was).
Many venture capital businesses that would normally fund and manufacturer this kind of technology have been hampered by a series of delays and obstacles in varying fields. Technology has been one area where it has just not peaked.
Analysts, who are watching this market very closely, are saying it [mainstream driverless technology] may not happen until 2030. Lawmakers are still wary and the biggest car-driving market of them all – those in the United States – are not warming to it either.
Who Will Be Likely Main Players?
The businesses and corporations one might expect to be on board with this technology are the obvious ones: Google’s controller Alphabet, Uber, General Motors, Ford and Tesla will all be there or there about.
Customer Experience Is Playing a Key Role in the Delay
Motor manufacturers are desperately trying to learn about customer and consumer experience. They have to develop models for learning and training. Driving test examinations may also need to consider an entirely new procedure to make sure driverless passengers know what they can and cannot do.
In a way, the technology is so different from the existing methods of driving that you need to look back in history to the very beginnings on the 20th century. In the late 1800s many vehicles were powered by steam or electricity.
The first gasoline vehicle came out in 1896 and produced “terrifying speeds of 20 mph!” There are few people – if any – alive today who can remember the first 20 years of driving. Between 1900 and 1920 there was true pandemonium on the cobbled streets and horse and cart tracks.
Vehicles would often tear around and not realise that when turning a corner, a vehicle would usually flip and go turtle up. Many accidents, injuries and a fair few deaths took place. The city where the motor car was born was Detroit, naturally.
By 1908, more than 30 deaths were recorded in the city alone from vehicle accidents. There were no stop signs, speed limits or Highway Code instructions. It was like the Wild West of transport had hit the city with a vengeance. There were so many injuries that records could not be kept.
Detroit City was also the first place to begin using some form of traffic sanity. It had no choice. By 1930, cars were a real menace and lane markings, one-way traffic lanes, stop signs and policemen directing the traffic were an essential way of controlling the mayhem.
It was as though the concept of traffic safety was forced upon society. The battle for road safety took several years to win over. When driverless technology becomes mainstream, we will not have the “luxury” of decades to get this right. After all, driverless cars will be capable of hitting speeds well in excess of 90 mph (although they will stay within the road traffic laws of that country).
What about the Las Vegas Driverless Technology?
If you have been to Las Vegas recently, you will have noticed it has become a place full of driverless vehicles. A company called APTIV and the taxi and car-sharing firm Lyft, provide the citizens and holidaymakers with a driverless vehicle, an engineer on board (in case anything goes wrong) and if you walk the walk down the famous Las Vegas Strip, it will take just seconds before you spot one.
Locals call them “Robo-taxis” and the concept is so new, the word has yet to make the dictionary – but it will soon.
What Happens in Vegas, Does NOT Stay in Vegas!
The driverless technology happening right now in Las Vegas, is also occurring in many other major cities. Schemes like these are occurring in the Californian cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles – albeit on a slightly smaller scale.
Moreover, cities across the world are getting in on the act too. In the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai, driverless cars are happening right now without the on-board engineer. Dubai is one of those cities that stands about 10 years ahead of the rest of the world.
Everything in Dubai is truly state-of-the-art, so what happens here with driverless technology may act as a good yardstick for how this kind of technology will develop in other cities around the world.
Driverless vehicles are also seen in India’s Bangalore and the Australian city of Perth. But all this existing technology is just the start. All vehicles seem to take a certain designated route through a major city, every vehicle has an engineer on board to help with customer confidence and act in the case of anything going awry.
The days of just hopping into a driverless vehicle, informing it of the desired destination and then sitting in the back seat snoozing or working on a laptop are still some way off. Even the motor industry giants like Ford and General Motors admit that vehicles will travel along specific roads, neatly mapped and at a much slower speed.
This kind of carefully planned driverless technology will become the only way you will experience autonomy in a vehicle anytime soon. This kind of geo-fencing of vehicles is the only way society can test ride the concept before throwing out to every member of the road using community.
The technology is getting better but with so much at risk – peoples’ lives for example – it is not a technology you can bring out in tranches or stages. When the iPhone came out or the first Windows operating system, it did not matter whether the version was dysfunctional, user-unfriendly and basically in dire need of a revamp and improvement (all of which ultimately did come).
Driverless technology cannot afford such a trial run – it has to be right first time, every time. Right now, it is far from that. Of course, self-driving cars are already here, but what will the picture look like in say five years’ time?
By 2024, it is likely we will see driverless cars and taxis moving goods and people around along designated routes only. These areas will be clearly marked to other conventional road users. A bit like the cities which operate a tram system or rail bus. Taxis with no driver will probably not become mainstream until 2035.
The technology of a taxi that is unmanned will have counter in payment features, wilful damage and other such problems real taxi drivers face every Saturday night. It is almost a certainty that by 2035, most cities and towns will be operating in a cashless society.
Self-Driving Cars, Driverless Cars and the Obstacles in Technology
One of the essential pieces of kit needed by autonomous cars is LIDAR – a Light Radar which has the ability to see. Ordinary radar is also needed, as is a redundant camera. The sensors will back up any weaknesses the other systems may have. These same systems also learn from the strengths of the other features. This is very high technology indeed.
So, a driverless vehicle cannot just see, it has to know what it is that it is seeing. This will be making the best use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology. We already know that AI is still in some kind of infancy itself.
The Human Brain
Human brains can fill in the missing gaps of information; a robot cannot. When you drive along a highway and you see a car parked on a junction, waiting to join the road you are on, there is a gut-feeling that sometimes that driver might pull out. It is a basic human instinct that driverless technology might well be a lifetime away of matching this skill.
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