Can you imagine a scenario whereby everyone has the ability of getting around safely and easily, regardless of their inability/ ability to drive? This would mean that your loved ones who are impaired (visually or physically) or aging wouldn’t necessarily have to surrender their independence. Valuable time that you usually spend commuting from one place to another could be devoted to carrying our more constructive activities. The number of serious injuries and deaths due to traffic accidents could be significantly reduced, especially since a huge fraction of the accidents are caused by human error. The scenarios mentioned above may become a reality in the near future, thanks to the development of driverless cars.
What are driverless cars?
Driverless cars (also known as robotic/ self-driving cars) are essentially vehicles which have the ability of sensing their environment and steering through (the environment) without assistance of drivers. These vehicles have the ability of detecting surroundings using computer vision, radar, odometry and GPS, among others. They are equipped with advanced control systems which play the role of interpreting sensory information so as to establish good navigation paths, relevant signage and obstacles. The driverless vehicles have in-built control systems which have capacity of analyzing sensory data with an objective of distinguishing between different vehicles on the road, and the control systems help in identifying perfect routes to preferred destinations.
The National Highway -Traffic Safety Administration, a regulatory body in the USA, has formulated a classification system which broadly classifies such vehicles into five categories; Levels 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Level 0: these are automatic vehicles which have to be under the control of human drivers at all times.
Level 1: in these vehicles, only certain control systems are automated. For instance, the vehicles may have automatic braking systems and electronic stability control.
Level 2: this category consists of vehicles with at least two controls that are simultaneously automated, e.g. lane keeping and adaptive cruise control.
Level 3: in these vehicles, drivers can completely let go of control of all the safety-critical functions. Such vehicles have ability of sensing when the drivers’ control is needed. They give drivers adequate transition time to respond.
Level 4: this category consists of vehicles which carry out all the safety critical functions during entire trips, and drivers aren’t expected to exercise control over the vehicles at all.
The SAE, a renowned vehicle standardization authority has also classified these vehicles into five broad levels, ranging from fully automated systems to driver-assisted systems.
Why modern transportation systems in developed countries are designing transportation systems with driverless cars in mind
Cities in European countries such as Belgium, United Kingdom, France and Italy have started building and planning for transportation systems that can accommodate driverless cars. Germany, Spain and Netherlands have approved legislation that allows testing of these cars in their traditional roads.
In 2015, the French government officially permitted PSA Peugeot Citroen to conduct trials in actual conditions in Paris. In 2016, these experiments were further extended to other cities in France, such as Strasbourg and Bordeaux.
Possible advantages of driverless cars
Development and adoption of driverless cars may present the following benefits;
There will be significant decrease in the number of traffic accidents. This is because most of the traffic accidents are due to human errors such as; aggressive driving, too fast/ delayed reaction time, distraction, tail gating and rubber necking, among other errors of commission and omission.Elimination/ reduction of redundant passengers. The cars will have ability of driving to required destinations without necessarily being occupied.Enhanced roadway capacity due to reduced traffic congestion (better management of traffic flow).Reduction of the total number of vehicles on roads.Higher speed limit.Enhanced productivity at the work place.Decreased demand for parking space.Increase in the number of larger vehicles.Decrease in the number of physical road signage.Decrease in carjacking and overall theft of vehicles.Travelling will become smoother and more enjoyable.
Driverless cars – a future reality
Development, manufacture and sale of driverless cars in the near and distant future. Mobileye is planning to release autonomous cars for country roads by the year 2017. By 2018, the company intends to release those which can traverse through city roads. According to officials of the company that manufactures Nissan automobiles, the company will design vehicles which can traverse multi-lane highways on their own by 2018. By 2018, Telsa Motors will have developed serial production models of full self driving vehicles. Drivers can therefore choose to sleep during the journey. According to scientists at the Electrical & Electronics Engineers Institute, 75% of all vehicles produced in the year 2040 and in subsequent years will be autonomous.