Self-driving cars are one of the biggest achievements of the last decade. It is not a small-scale discovery, it is a project that changes people’s believes about the transportation system in general. Without doubt, this project is the first step to letting smart technologies be responsible for our safety and well-being. Despite its limitations, self-driving car is the technology that will allow people to feel safer and to have more time for personal needs and interests.
Self-driving cars are the vehicles that can be driven without or with only partial participation of the driver. These vehicles use sensors and navigation systems to avoid obstacles and move with a limited speed without accidents. What is more, they are able to analyze the changing conditions on the road, to predict future conditions, and to choose their moving strategy according to these conditions. These vehicles are also called autonomous because they do not necessarily require the presence of the driver. Self-driving cars are equipped with many kinds of newest technologies. It is necessary to distinguish the most popular ones. First, it is the GPS which allows finding the exact location of the car and its place of destination. It also provides maps for the vehicle’s orientation in space. Secondly, it is the LIDAR sensing technology which is based on a laser usage and which makes a car able to measure the distance between it and other objects on the road (Jurgen, 2013). The next thing is the computer vision technology that makes a vehicle able to analyze the information received by radars and to come up with an instant decision about its driving strategy for the next moment. After all these technologies had been united, it became possible to create the first prototypes of self-driving or autonomous cars.
How are self-driving cars influencing our present and future? Why develop these technologies? What do people want to get from automatic driving? The first and the most important thing is safety matters. It is a well-known fact that cars are believed to be the most dangerous kind of transport. The main cause of all car accidents is mistakes made by drivers. The creators of self-driving cars have found a way to avoid making these mistakes and therefore, to make travelling safer and life easier. Surely, for the time being, the technologies are not developed enough to guarantee one hundred percent safety if these cars are allowed to the roads far and wide. However, the development rate is very high in this sphere and it gives a possibility to predict the common usage of this technology in the nearest future. The next important thing is the possibility to get to the place of destination without a driver. It is convenient because to drive by the car, a person should not have the driving license and what is more, he or she can relax in the car, read, talk, or even sleep. Nevertheless, not all the companies that are currently creating the prototypes of self-driving cars support this function. Many of them require the presence of driver who will take responsibility of the driving process.
With self-driving cars, the future of transportation may be completely different. People now cannot imagine the world without accidents and the cars without drivers. Already-existing new technologies give people well-grounded hopes that these dreams can soon come true. There will be no more drunk drivers, speeding, and traffic jams. Self-driving cars are already influencing our future and with every new day the impact only gets stronger.
The most successful implementation of all the ideas described above is the achievement of the Google Company, which is famous for its global innovative projects in various spheres of human activity. The first prototype of the self-driving car was released in Spring of 2014. These cars are very different from those people see every day. It does not have a helm and pedals because people do not have to do anything in this car except relax and observe. Google claimed that the car was able to notice obstacles in all direction in a distance which is equal to the size of two football fields together. The car is equipped with two seats for passengers and a monitor where they could see the progress of their trip. However, this car is not a finished product and already has its limitations. Its maximum speed is 25 mph, and it does not even have headlights. Google announced that despite the success of the first prototypes, the pace of developments will not be slower and that they hoped to present a new prototype in the nearest future (Urmson, 2014). Everything happened as predicted. In a year after the release of the first prototype, Google has presented its new self-driving car, slightly more developed than the previous one. What is more, the company is already starting testing the indicated cars in real traffic situations. For this testing, producers have equipped the cars with all the elements necessary for manual guidance, therefore, human drivers will be able to take control of the car in all the critical situations if it appears necessary (Urmson, 2015).
Though the Google Company is definitely one of the leaders in this sphere, other companies are making efforts to get closer to self-driving cars technology. For instance, Tesla Motors has announced the release of its automatic car. In its equipment, it is similar to the Google prototype, but there is one large difference. Tesla model requires a driver who is responsible for the whole process. In this case, a car only has an “autopilot” function which can be turned on or off (Ackerman, 2015). Even if it is on, the driver has to make the most important decisions. The Tesla model got very closely to what Google did, but it could not still take responsibility for the operations performed by the car. The driver is fully responsible for the process.
Other companies have also followed the similar pattern and started either improving existing technologies or creating entirely new products. The Ford company is actively working on the creation of autonomous cars, which are able to scan road signs in order to get information about a permitted speed limit. The interesting fact is that if the speed gets too high, the car does not simply brake, but limits the amount of fuel. It gives drivers an opportunity to avoid the unintentional speeding and traffic rules breaking (Eisenstein, 2015). Nissan, Bosch, Audi, and other car manufacturers also claimed that they were working on similar projects and testing them. A total success of the Google project and the growing interest to the autonomous cars has led to the situation when almost all well-known manufacturers change their production in order to keep up with the times and be ready if self-driving cars become the obsession of the humanity.
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There are both benefits and drawbacks concerning self-driving cars. The positive aspects are obvious. First, the autonomous cars (when the technology is advanced enough) ensure much more safety. It is the main aim of all producers of these vehicles. They strive to create a car that can immediately react to danger, avoid unnecessary speeding, and find the shortest way possible to the place of destination. Another advantage is the fact that people who are in the car may be engaged in any kind of activity, not paying attention to the road. It is an actual problem now when drivers get distracted too often. The third benefit is that the cost of freight or any transportations will certainly get lower because cars will not require professional drivers any more. The situation on the road will also benefit from the new technology. It will be easier to predict backups of cars and to avoid traffic congestions and no traffic police will be needed.
However, there are also certain disadvantages regarding the appearance of self-driving cars. In the article, “Hidden Obstacles for Google’s Self-Driving Cars”, the author states that autonomous cars, produced by Google, can be blinded by a heavy rain or snow, and cannot spot pits and potholes (Gomez, 2014). The described difficulties are not really the weaknesses, it is more about the incomplete work because all these aspects can be improved in the future. For example, after the incident when Google car hit the donkey, the company has improved the system and prepared the cars for situations when animals suddenly change their moving strategy (McFarland, 2015). Other aspects can be improved in the same way. The problem of autonomous vehicles is that they are simply not advanced enough to serve for real purposes right now. They just need some time for testing and improving.
The important issue is the governmental permission to test the autonomous cars. The article “Comparative Analysis of Laws on Autonomous Vehicles in the U.S. and Europe” provides the detailed information about the American and European legislation regarding self-driving cars. It proves that by 2014 all the American states had claimed their interest in automatic vehicles, but only ten states have made at least any changes in their legislative system. A few European countries have also highlighted their interest in the advanced technology and have developed a legal basis for new solutions, testing and implementation. Nevertheless, the authors note that the amount of legislative efforts of these countries is non-sufficient and that Europe has not provided any specific laws regarding self-driving cars (Kim, Heled, Asher, & Thompson, 2014).
The invention of self-driving cars has not been sudden. The constant industrial growing and development of the new technologies preceded it. The project is the result of the unity of many previous efforts. The creators of the autonomous vehicles have combined the existing systems and technologies (such as GPS, radars, LIDAR, etc.) with their own new inventory, a computer vision technology. To develop it, a significant amount of time and money was necessary. Because of its combined structure, it is impossible to state how much time it was necessary to prepare the first prototype of a self-driving car. It is even more difficult to predict how much time it will take to implement the project, considering the aspects which are incomplete now and the difficulties concerning governmental legislation. Nevertheless, almost everybody now understands what a great potential this technology has, and due to this understanding all the difficulties will soon be overcome. Eric Schmidt, the Google Executive Chairman, promises that they will make everything possible to implement the new solutions as soon as possible because “The sooner we can get cars to drive for us the more lives we can save” (Tsotsis, 2012).
In conclusion, it is necessary to state that self-driving car is the very perspective technology studied and developed by prominent companies in this sphere, such as Google, Tesla Motors, and others. The implementation of this solution will allow people to feel safer on the roads, to have more time for personal needs and interests, and to reduce the transportation costs. Hopefully, the self-driving cars will be developed enough to be ready for common usage all over the world, the legislation system regarding the autonomous cars will be improved, and common people will soon be able to evaluate the benefits of a new technology on their own.