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Blog: Why Can’t Your Car Drive You To Work Yet?


1.25 million.

That’s how many people die from car crashes every single year. That’s 3,424 deaths per day, or 2 deaths every single minute.

And what’s causing all these deaths? People.

We humans make a lot of small mistakes every day, and these mistakes turn about to be pretty deadly on the highway.

Something as small as checking your phone for a second could potentially mean the end of your life and others’.

That’s why companies like Tesla, Waymo, and dozens of others, are working on removing humans from the equation, by having cars drive themselves.

But we’ve heard about self-driving cars for a while now, so, where are they? Why aren’t all our cars fully autonomous right now?

Self-driving cars today

Today’s self-driving cars are already pretty impressive. A Tesla car sports 12 sensors, radar, and a front-facing camera. Thanks to machine learning, This array allows it to detect

  • Traffic
  • Pedestrians
  • Signs
  • Lanes

And anything else in front of or around the car. But even with these capabilities, drivers still have to pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the wheel. Why?

Why aren’t self-driving cars mainstream yet?

They aren’t mainstream yet for a number of reasons.

Hacking

Cybersecurity is a growing concern in general, but it’s especially dangerous if used to exploit autonomous cars since people’s lives are at stake.

It’s scary how easily a self-driving car can be hacked. Researchers managed to trick a self-driving car’s computer vision system by making a stop sign look like a speed limit sign simply by putting a sticker on it. Because of this, the car didn’t stop when it saw the sign.

Hackers could also potentially hack the car itself and take control of it. This is obviously really dangerous, and a problem that will need to be addressed as more people use self-driving cars.

Imperfection in the self-driving system

The object detection and computer vision systems aren’t perfect. Certain things like dust, debris, and sunlight can prevent cameras and sensors from working properly. In 2016 a Tesla owner died after his car couldn’t recognize a white truck against the bright sky. Teslas have significantly improved since then, but even now there’s a lot of work to do before they become just as if not safer than humans in all situations.

Ethical Concerns

There are some decisions that a driver in a dangerous situation must make that we simply haven’t trusted algorithms to make. Say an autonomous car is about to hit 4 people on a cliffside, should it kill the 4 people or drive itself off a cliff, killing the driver. And if/when someone does die in an accident like this, who will be held responsible? These are the kinds of questions that we need to answer if we’re gonna give autonomous cars full control.

Communication

Communication is an important part of driving. People often signal to each other at stops and parking lots, and observing how other drivers are behaving on the road can help you make safer decisions. For example, if you see a car acting very erratically behind you, you might want to change lanes, even if they’re not posing a direct threat to you right now. Eventually, autonomous cars should also be able to communicate with each other, but more on this later.

Two amazingly realistic cars talking to each other.

Extreme or unusual conditions

Often times there will be situations where human beings just have to take over. What if there’s an ambulance approaching behind you? What if there’s a snowstorm? Self-driving cars need to know how to handle these kinds of situations.

The hardware for completely driverless cars already exists. It’s just a matter of improving software and collecting more data before we reach a point where we can keep our hands completely off the wheel.

When can we expect self-driving cars?

“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” –Lao Tzu

We’re pretty bad at predicting the future. We think in a linear fashion, but technology evolves exponentially, which makes it hard to know exactly when we’ll really have fully autonomous cars. That being said, experts from companies like GM believe that we’ll develop completely driverless cars by 2020 to 2030. Elon Musk, who’s known for making ambitious claims, believes that fully autonomous Tesla Taxis will be picking up passengers by next year. But hey, if Tesla can pull it off, that would be awesome, and we’d be a step closer to preventing over a million deaths each year.

What will self-driving cars mean for the world?

If we can make cars completely autonomous, they will completely change the way we get around.

First of all, traffic jams will be a thing of the past. The cars will either be able to communicate with each other, or they will all be controlled by one system which allows them to coordinate in a way that prevents congestion from ever happening.

Second, people probably won’t own cars anymore. People are already buying fewer cars today, but with self-driving cars, car ownership will become even less common. Cars are parked 95% of the time. So by paying for a car, we’re paying tens of thousands of dollars for something we only use for a small fraction of the time.

Instead, with self-driving cars, we would only use cars when we needed them. If we need to get to work, we’d simply press a button on our phone, and a car would show up to take us to work. Need to get groceries? No problem. Simply press a button and you’ll have a car at your service. Anyone who owns a car could just lend it to someone else with an app like Uber whenever they’re not using it, and make money.

And most important of all, fully autonomous cars will save millions of lives.

Takeaways

  • We currently have the hardware we need to make fully autonomous cars.
  • There are a number of problems preventing cars from becoming fully autonomous, including cybersecurity issues, imperfections in the self-driving software, ethical concerns, and unusual and extreme road conditions.
  • Many experts believe we’ll have fully autonomous cars between 2020 and 2030.
  • Self-driving cars will save millions of lives, and change the way we think about transportation.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, and check out my personal website where you can see my other projects and sign up for my newsletter! Thanks!

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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