Automation is taking over the world. The era of traditional manned vehicles is approaching its end. We need to recognize the fact that the world in the 21st century is changing at a much faster pace than in previous decades.
Universal automation is increasingly prevalent in many industries and factories, and now, the automotive industry is also moving to adopt this new trend. Undoubtedly, you have already heard about autonomous cars on the roads of the future — or in other words, cars without drivers.
However, the relationship with robotic solutions is not an easy one, and not everyone understands what this new technology is and what risks it poses. Read our material to keep up with technological progress and gain an understanding of what to expect in the near future and how innovative technologies will benefit the automotive industry.
The era of unmanned vehicles
Autonomous machines are slowly but steadily becoming the current reality. We must first understand a simple definition: i.e. a car that drives itself with the help of modern hardware and software. We will soon be amazed by the number of different cars on the roads which will have automated driving systems. Numerous forecasts indicate different dates, but there is no doubt that 30-50% of the cars in the world will be equipped with autopilot systems in a decade or two. Pretty soon you will be able to relax in your car and spend time reading, working, and watching the news or movies. You will be able to conveniently sit in the backseat, choose a route, and not waste time getting nervous in another traffic jam.
Autonomous vehicles: The current reality
If you still think that all this is impossible today and that this technological development is still far away, you should know that the U.S. Department of Transportation has decided that, by law, an onboard artificial intelligence computer can already be recognized as a driver. In fact, unmanned vehicle technology has already become a global industry.
Why are these systems often called semi-autonomous? Despite all the autonomous autopilot functions, current cars still cannot travel without a driver. For example, when overtaking another vehicle, a driver must control the speed and steer the vehicle because modern vehicle radar systems are not perfected enough to allow the electronics to accurately assess the speed of nearby cars.
In addition, as of now, the implementation of these systems is still banned worldwide due to their lack of efficiency. The fact is that there are some serious problems with all autopilot electronic systems.
The main problem is the correct choice of the car’s actions in case of an emergency. For example — where will the autonomous car turn if a child runs out onto the road? What if the electronics decide to make a maneuver in the direction of a sidewalk to prevent the death of the child — however, it could be possible that other children are walking on the sidewalk at that same moment. How, and on what basis, should the autonomous system make a decision? In addition, there are many ambiguous situations that could be possible. Prior to the implementation of these systems, these scenarios must be registered in the unmanned vehicle’s autopilot algorithms. Much needs to be done at the legislative level to determine who will be responsible in case of car accidents or injuries to people. As you can see, the list goes on and on...
When was the idea of an autonomous car born?
Until now, many people who were familiar with driverless cars have mistakenly believed that autonomous vehicles were only the result of technology advances in the 21st century. However, this is not true. In 1994 for example, Mercedes, along with the University of Munich, developed the «VaMP» autonomous car based on the S-Class E500 sedan. However, due to software errors and defects in the sensors, the car could only travel autonomously for a little over 150 km without having an emergency situation.
The power of self-drive cars
However, things are not so depressing. Currently, the developed and implemented systems might already impress you — since experimental on-board test systems allow you to drive quite quickly. For example, the new generation of the Mercedes-Benz E-class can guarantee that your trip will not resemble riding a turtle when using the onboard autopilot system. The autonomous system can operate at speeds of up to 120 km/h and can even drive the car in semi-automatic mode without you participating in the race!
In addition, the brand new system is designed to leave a significant gap between cars and reduce speed smoothly to avoid the possibility of an accident. However, if someone reacts quickly in front of you the automatic system could act with a delay or slow down too much. That is why the driver still has to be in control on the road, even when the autopilot mode is on.
What is the role of the driver in an autonomous car? One may wonder, but from the very beginning of the development of the automotive industry it was assumed at the legislative level that the driver should be in the front seat and keep his hands on the wheel. However, with the advent of autonomous cars, everything will soon change — now the driver can become just a passenger in the back seat. If the driver prefers the classic style and chooses to sit in the front seat, he can simply not use the steering wheel and read while driving and not pay attention to the road.
How driverless cars operate
Autonomous cars are equipped with various sensors and high-speed cameras — in particular, they use ultrasound systems, infrared, or laser sensors.
When using these systems, the car simply scans the environment every few milliseconds using all of this technology. These special scanning systems can determine the environment and other vehicles around them not only on the highway, but also in a large metropolis.
Unfortunately, for the time being it is impossible to ensure complete safety since autonomous vehicles cannot surpass vehicles which still require driver participation. Nevertheless, the technology is gradually evolving and adapting, and most projections show that this innovation will be an ideal tool in the next few years.
Also, how about driving at night? Here it is still more complicated. Unfortunately, modern technology does not allow an autonomous car to travel on the road at any time that is convenient for you. Even the presence of high-quality video cameras can not be completely effective because of the low quality of video after sunset. What can we say, if even in daylight, the camera cannot determine the color of a traffic light with 100 percent accuracy?
Thus, the existing industry has a significant problem of creating a fully autonomous car, since modern optical systems cannot deal with the brightness of some objects — almost the same problem exists in the human eye. For example, at dusk, the camera may incorrectly determine the color of a traffic light. And in very bright light, the system may not fully see a traffic light at all.
Moreover, what about harsh weather conditions? It is disappointing because there are currently no technologies that allow you to use an autonomous car when it snows. To date, sensors that have been developed for autonomous vehicles recognize snow as an obstacle. As a result — when it snows, the car simply does not move!
A separate question — will the number of accidents really decrease if there are more autonomous cars on the road? It can be noted that there will definitely be fewer kinds of situations. The autonomous system is able to perform emergency braking, if necessary, more effectively than a person. On the other hand, autonomous systems at the moment can only work effectively if the distance to another car is insignificant. As a result, it may affect the formation of traffic jams due to a sharp decrease in speed on the highway.
The fact is that the automatic braking system works only when the vehicle in front of it is in range of the sensors, which are still far from perfect in their scanning abilities. That is why autonomous cars still cannot reduce speed as smoothly as ordinary drivers can.
Another thing — about the question of heavy traffic on the road. For a fairly common problem such as a traffic jam, an autonomous car is indispensable because it reacts faster to the flow of traffic, which consequently contributes to the car moving faster and a solution to the problem of traffic.
Thus, the multiple drawbacks of the systems must be taken into account before autopilot systems enter into mass production and become widely available.
Another important question — are such cars safe? Such vehicles have been tested many times, but still the results of these initial tests do not meet the standards for guaranteed safety. Therefore, it is too early to talk about them being completely safe.
Types of a new generation of cars and the technology leaders
So when will it happen? At the moment, no country in the world has officially authorized the use of fully autonomous cars on public roads.
The only exceptions are the U.S. states of California and Nevada where the authorities have allowed the use of Google’s experimental autonomous cars on some roads.
Audi is currently developing an autonomous car, the A9, which will debut after 2018 — this car is equipped with unique autonomous technologies that bring the automotive industry closer to a fantastic future. This experimental autonomous model has equipment with a high degree of independent automation control, without the participation of the driver.
In addition, the German authorities are also currently preparing legislation that will officially allow the use of autonomous cars on the country’s roads beginning in 2020.
Mercedes has also invested millions of dollars in developing an innovative car of the future that will have a fully autonomous autopilot. The model is based on a futuristic concept car which was presented at several car dealerships in 2015. The concept was called the Mercedes-Benz F015, and it is almost a real self-service vehicle.
Volkswagen has also fully developed their VW Golf VII, which is equipped with a full-fledged autonomous control system. This model is planned to enter the market next year — at the end of 2019.
So, the technology of a full-fledged autopilot for the automotive industry has already been fully developed. For example, the VW Golf VII with autopilot can automatically drive a car at a speed of up to 130 km/h.
However, German car companies are not only preparing for the great era of autonomous cars. Most cars that are in development are also equipped with electric motors that are battery powered. For example, Audi is working on an autonomous car under the working title A9.
Tesla models could also be winners in this race. The renowned electric car company already has some of the most complex plans for developing semi-autonomous cars on the market. And the company’s latest plans state that it could launch its own passenger rental service and even allow individuals to rent them out. Well, that should be taken into account by other industry players!
In the near future, companies such as Apple and Google, which have become successful in the phone and electronic technology market, may enter the new business as automakers. Many of you have probably already heard of the autonomous Google Car. Numerous Uber-like services will be more convenient and will not be subject to the effects of the human factor.
When will this happen? What is the release date of these cars?
Starting from 2020, the automotive market will begin to mass produce autonomous cars of various brands. Conquering the whole world in the near future is more marketing noise, but most analysts believe that by the 2030’s, 20-30% of new cars sold around the world will be completely autonomous and that the technology will become ubiquitous in general closer to 2050.
What will these cars cost?
The thought must have crept into the reader’s mind — can I buy a self-driving car already? In any case, the price will determine the impact of autonomous vehicles on the world market.
Unfortunately, you still can not buy a fully autonomous vehicle for the many reasons mentioned above. In addition, most likely you will not be able to afford it anyway, since the addition of experimental autopilot technology to any car can dramatically increase the initial price from $50,000 to $100,000.
Google plans to use complex LIDAR (radar, but with lasers), cameras, censors, and GPS which will allow you to precisely control the computer. The first LIDAR components used by Google cost about $75,000 per vehicle a few years ago.
Speaking of estimates of cost per mile for future autonomous vehicles, we will provide you with the most credible estimates:
$1.00 per mile
Ford claims that it can reduce the cost of highly automated cars to about $1.00 per mile, which makes them highly competitive with taxis which are about $6.00 per mile.
50 cents per mile (2030)
Morgan Stanley estimates that autonomous vehicles will cost about 50 cents per mile by 2030, compared with about 74 cents per mile for standard private cars.
29 cents per mile (2040)
Barclay estimates that the cost of autonomous vehicles will be $0.29 per mile by 2040, compared with about 66 cents per mile for ordinary private cars today.
Moreover, Katie Huberty from Morgan Stanley believes that the total market value will reach $2.6 trillion in just 14 years. She also thinks that this is the market Apple is aiming at with the rumors about its Titan project. According to her calculations, the company may eventually get 16% of this market — about $400 billion — by 2030.
As history teaches us, technological progress cannot be stopped. Humanity needs to understand that current and future developments will undoubtedly make life more convenient, but people are still mandatory in many professions and fields. In the end, human intelligence is still the best option for many tasks.
Read also: The new transport revolution
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Well, that's pretty interesting, after all.