Driverless cars: let's have faith in technology

Driverless cars: let's have faith in technology

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Few technologies better emphasise the crucial relationship between academia, government and industry as the driverless car.

The very first autonomous vehicles in the 1980s were products of partnerships between automobile manufacturers and universities, with Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich's EUREKA Prometheus Project a perfect example.

It is perhaps inevitable that driverless cars will supersede human driven ones. The primary reason will be that people will be so engrossed in cyberspace that to 'manually' waste time in driving a car would seem ridiculous. Much more can be done online. The time frame is still uncertain for when society finally cede control to a machine and give up driving their own car. It should be remembered that for many, it is a rite of passage to pass a test and drive one’s own car. Younger generations who are growing up with game consoles and smart phones might not be as deeply in love with driving as previous generations. In fact the ability to continue texting and remaining actively connected to the Internet might lead them to desiring driverless cars. This connectedness of course might be a real worry in the future as distractions account for one-fifth of crashes with injuries, and 1 in 10 drivers under 20 involved in crashes with fatalities were distracted.

Vehicles of course are a critical aspect of modern economies across manufacturers, suppliers, and dealers. There is also a significant financial outlay to the cost of owning, maintaining and driving a vehicle and a portion of our taxes goes towards roads and infrastructure with estimates of a 4 lane motorway costing on average 7 million per mile. The average commuter spends 250 hours a year behind the wheel which leads to lost productivity, time and possibly peace of mind. In congested urban areas, about 40% of total fuel use can be simply searching for a parking space. Another cost to society is the crashes leading to injuries and deaths. A modern society can easily reach 1 death per 5000 people not to mention the thousands who suffer life changing injuries. Therefore the drive to pursue vehicle safety is spurring various National Traffic Safety Administrations to focus attention on self-driving vehicles with the goal to make self-driving vehicles as “safe” as human drivers and ideally develop “crash-less” cars.

It is worth noting that driverless vehicles open up new possibilities such as allowing those who are not legally eligible to drive e.g. convicted drink drivers, younger people, older people, and those with disabilities to be mobile. In addition to infrastructure and transport networks, one of the major barriers to driverless technology is legislation. Legislation related to the level of control a car can take can be very strict, though these laws will change as the technology becomes more popular. Sceptics have expressed concern that the margin for computer failure is too high, something that will surely be fine-tuned and improved as driverless technology is perfected.

In order for driverless technology to really take off, Governments will need to have faith in the electronics and allow them to take over driving completely.

The above is a guest post by Dr Kevin Curran (@DrKevinCurran), senior member of the IEEE and lecturer at the University of Ulster on how he sees the future unfolding for autonomous vehicles.

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