For all its reliance on technology, driving is a very human pursuit. It supports our desire to explore and travel beyond the limitations of our two feet. For many of us, our vehicles are the tools of freedom, the avatar of our love for open roads and the possibilities they hold.
This is partially why the narrative surrounding the potential of self-driving vehicles has been so interesting. On one hand, we’ll have the ability to travel long distances, even through the night without having to stop to sleep. We could spend more time simply enjoying the landscape as it passes by us, without having to concentrate on the road. Yet, there is a certain amount of reticence; we are reluctant to hand over control to machines. Part of the joy of driving, it seems, is the execution of the skill itself.
Yet like it or not, self-driving vehicles are becoming more practical with each passing year. As we stand on the cusp of intelligent vehicles being the dominant presence on our roads, it’s important to look at the current state of the technology. How is it starting to affect our lives, what challenges does it present, and how are we reacting?
Perhaps the primary challenge we face regarding self-driving vehicles is their impact on road safety. We certainly can’t deny that cars under human control have more than their fair share of accidents. It may be the case that by taking humans out of the equation, self-driving cars could reduce the rate of traffic accidents. However, given how prevalent computer errors are, many of us have significant trust issues on the subject of their ability to get us from A to B safely. We also have concerns as to whether our infrastructure is ready for autonomous vehicles, and whether laws may need to be altered to account for a change in driving methods.
Legislatively speaking, we don’t currently have many specific regulations that cater to the autonomous vehicle market. This presents a problem as, while these cars aren’t yet ubiquitous, legislation has a habit of being slow to catch up with leaps in technology. Not to mention that we could face the Collingridge Dilemma: problems may not be revealed until well after self-driving cars are on the roads, and then control can be difficult once the tech is already widely adopted. We will also need to gain a better understanding of who will be legally responsible if a self-driving car causes an accident — owners, programmers, or manufacturers?
As it stands, manufacturers themselves are already exploring various solutions that could help make self-driving cars safe. Implementation of systems also seems to be staggered — there are various levels of autonomy, from cruise control to full automation. We are not yet producing the latter level. This is allowing time to build sufficient safeguards, such as software developed by Waymo, which reads and automatically responds to the gestures of traffic police officers.
One of the useful bellwethers of trending technology is how quickly various industries are willing to adopt it. Self-driving vehicles have the potential to make a serious impact on many sectors, particularly logistics. While we are not yet at the stage of seeing fully automated fleets on our roads, there are sectors that have already begun to explore the early aspects of technology that could ease the transition in that direction.
For example, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has begun to transform various global markets, from healthcare to education. It is also instrumental in making vehicle automation a reality, and aspects of this are already being seen in the logistics enterprises. Freight companies are currently using AI to intelligently adjust their shipping routes, while their manufacturing counterparts are exploring AI-guided robotic assembly and packaging. These current applications for collecting data on processes and adapting behavior accordingly will be key to ensuring AI can make automated vehicles navigate changeable road conditions safely and efficiently.
One of the earliest industrial adopters of automated vehicle technology has been public transit. Ride sharing services such as Lyft and Waymo have begun utilizing systems developed by as part of a partnership with the latter’s parent company, Google’s Alphabet. While currently limited to relatively short distances, this is demonstrating how the public are most likely to embrace self-driving vehicles — for convenient short hops, perhaps commuting to work.
Our Needs and Preferences
When exploring how self-driving cars are affecting contemporary life, it’s important to also examine how we as humans are responding to the prospect. It’s certainly a subject of some debate, with arguments ranging from their vulnerability to hacking, to the potential rise in emissions. So as self-driving cars move closer to the mainstream, what aspects are we happy to embrace?
Studies tend to suggest that millennials, in particular, are keen to adopt services that focus on user experience (UX), including ease of navigation and swiftness of response. In a world that is embracing machine thinking, millennials place a great premium upon personalization and social interaction. We are already seeing elements of personalization in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), with users’ regular driving patterns, skills, and preferences being used to provide a more individual experience. This is expected to be developed further in self-driving vehicles.
Many consumers currently seem to prefer automated aspects that still provide some element of control. Cruise control is a prime example of this — it provides the convenience of automated speed maintenance, while the human driver ultimately has power over direction and braking. GPS provides a similar situation — we are informed of the most efficient routes of navigation, but we have the ability to alter this if we so wish. This perhaps suggests that we are willing to adopt autonomous vehicles on the condition that we are able to make choices, to take over the wheel when we want that experience.
We are not yet at the point where fully autonomous vehicles are a feature of our roads. However, we are swiftly moving toward that point, with lower levels of self-driving and AI systems already having a presence in our cars. Before we are comfortable with the benefits that autonomous vehicles could offer, it is clear that we still have questions that need to be answered and concerns that must be addressed.
Photo is from pexels
Guest Author Bio
Magnolia Potter is a muggle from the Pacific Northwest who writes from time to time and covers a variety of topics. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book.
Blog / Website: Magnolia Potter