Advantages and Disadvantages of Driverless Cars
Also sometimes called autonomous cars, robotic cars, and self-driving cars, truly driverless cars were essentially the stuff of science-fiction books and movies until relatively recently (although there were some notable early attempts: see a brief history later in this article).
Definitions vary, but autonomous cars are typically defined as versions of our current vehicles that are capable of taking over from the driver under certain circumstances, whereas driverless cars are the next stage on in development and usually have no steering wheel or pedals.
The involvement of Google in developing the necessary software for the operation of these vehicles has increased public interest in the technology and practicality issues, as well as increasing investment.
Below, I give the advantages and disadvantages of driverless cars, presented in the form of a pros and cons list.
How Do Driverless Cars Work?
Driverless cars sense their surroundings using technology such as lidar, radar, GPS, and computer vision.
The sensory information is then processed to navigate appropriate pathways for the vehicle to take, avoiding any obstacles and also obeying the road signs.
The car uses a digital map, which can be constantly updated according to sensory input. This allows the vehicle to adapt to changing situations, as well as travel through previously unknown territories.
Classifying Automated Vehicles
A formal classification system for automated cars has been proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Level 0: Driver has complete control of vehicle at all times.
Level 1: Some vehicle controls are automated, e.g. automatic braking.
Level 2: Two or more controls can be automated at the same time, e.g. cruise control and lane keeping.
Level 3: The driver can cede control in certain circumstances.
Level 4: Driver not expected to play any part in the driving process at all.
Advantages of Driverless Cars
- Without the need for a driver, cars could become mini-leisure rooms. There would be more space and no need for everyone to face forwards. Entertainment technology, such as video screens, could be used to lighten long journeys without the concern of distracting the driver.
- Over 80% of car crashes in the USA are caused by driver error. There would be no bad drivers and less mistakes on the roads, if all vehicles became driverless. Drunk and drugged drivers would also be a thing of the past.
- Travelers would be able to journey overnight and sleep for the duration.
- Traffic could be coordinated more easily in urban areas to prevent long tailbacks at busy times. Commute times could be reduced drastically.
- Reduced or non-existent fatigue from driving, plus arguments over directions and navigation would be a thing of the past.
- Sensory technology could potentially perceive the environment better than human senses, seeing farther ahead, better in poor visibility, detecting smaller and more subtle obstacles, more reasons for less traffic accidents.
- Speed limits could be increased to reflect the safer driving, shortening journey times.
- Parking the vehicle and difficult maneuvering would be less stressful and require no special skills. The car could even just drop you off and then go and park itself.
- People who historically have difficulties with driving, such as disabled people and older citizens, as well as the very young, would be able to experience the freedom of car travel. There would be no need for drivers' licenses or driving tests.
- Autonomous vehicles could bring about a massive reduction in insurance premiums for car owners.
- Efficient travel also means fuel savings, cutting costs.
- Reduced need for safety gaps means that road capacities for vehicles would be significantly increased.
- Passengers should experience a smoother riding experience.
- Self-aware cars would lead to a reduction in car theft.
Brief History of Self-Driving Vehicles
The origins of automated cars go back to the 1920s. The technology significantly advanced in the 1950s, but it wasn't until the 1980s with the introduction of computers that truly autonomous vehicles began to become a possibility. Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Bosch, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, the University of Parma, Oxford University and Google have all developed prototype vehicles since then.
Disadvantages of Driverless Cars
- Driverless cars would likely be out of the price range of most ordinary people when generally introduced, likely costing over $100,000.
- Truck drivers and taxi drivers will lose their jobs, as autonomous vehicles take over.
- A computer malfunction, even just a minor glitch, could cause worse crashes than anything that human error might bring about.
- If the car crashes, without a driver, who's fault is it: Google/the software designer, or the owner of the vehicle?
- The cars would rely on the collection of location and user information, creating major privacy concerns.
- Hackers getting into the vehicle's software and controlling or affecting its operation would be a major security worry.
- There are problems currently with autonomous vehicles operating in certain types of weather. Heavy rain interferes with roof-mounted laser sensors, and snow can interfere with its cameras.
- Reading human road signs is challenging for a robot.
- As drivers become more and more used to not driving, their proficiency and experience will diminish. Should they then need to drive under certain circumstances, there may be problems.
- The road system and infrastructure would likely need major upgrades for driverless vehicles to operate on them. Traffic and street lights, for instance, would likely all need altering.
- Self-driving cars would be great news for terrorists, as they could be loaded with explosives and used as moving bombs.
- Ethical problems could arise which a machine might struggle to deal with. Faced with a choice between plowing into a group of schoolchildren or going off a bridge and killing all its passengers, what does the vehicle do? Should the vehicle always swerve to avoid animals in the road or always prioritize the safety and comfort of passengers?
- Human behavior such as hand signals are difficult for a computer to understand.
- How would the police interact with driverless vehicles, especially in the case of accidents or crimes?
Where are Driverless Cars Legal in The USA?
In the USA, as of 2013, four states have allowed the testing of autonomous vehicles on their roads, they are:
In 2015, two more states are set to join the four above:
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Paul Goodman