A decade ago, self-driving cars were more of a science-fiction concept, a popular discussion topic on forums of Popular Science and usually seen on big screens in movies like Minority Report and I Robot. Fast forward to today and self-driving cars are becoming more of a reality and some are even debuting on luxury cars like Mercedes-Benz S Class and others.
As an automobile journalist, I cringe every time I read an article about these automated automobiles and wonder what will happen to our profession if cars do all the driving without any human involvement? As of this writing, there is no immediate danger to our profession because the commercialization and implementation of these technologies into everyday cars are still at least a decade or two away.
Over the past decade, automakers around the world, ranging from Hyundai to Mercedes-Benz, have worked hard to understand the concept of self-driving and perfecting it enough so that everyday drivers can use them with enough confidence in the technology. But, as with any new technology, there will be some downsides and imperfections, as seen in the video released by Hyundai during their Future Automobile Technology Competition in South Korea. The first video shows how far the self-piloting technology has come as the yellow Hyundai Veloster perfectly navigates through various stages during the competition.
However, when the sun and blue skies make way to rain, fog, and clouds, the same Hyundai fails majority of the challenges by ignoring signs and almost running into a light pole after climbing the curb, as seen in the video below.
Since majority of these autonomous functions are controlled by computers, cameras, radars and various other sensors, they tend to fail when mother nature intervenes. Because of this reason, many manufacturers are implementing auto-driving features into cars as a driver’s assistance, instead of replacing the driver all together.With this in mind, self-driving technology actually benefits the driver as it takes out the stress in driving by taking over the tasks of braking, accelerating and steering during stop and go traffic and the driver regains full control of his vehicle at higher speeds.
Aside from being a driver’s assistance feature, self-driving technologies also aid the visually impaired and disabled people by enabling them to travel from point A to B in their personal vehicle with comfort and ease. With this thought in mind, Google in 2012 released a video (see below) featuring Steve Mahan, who is 95% blind, travelling around his town in a Google developed, self-driving Toyota Prius. The Prius was able to drive itself around the town and back home without any involvement from Steve or any of the developers who were in the car at the moment. This showcases the true potential of self-driving cars and for people like Steve, cars like this could not have come soon enough.
Everyday, the idea of self-driving cars are becoming more of a reality than science-fiction thanks to the research and real world testing of these technologies by the major automakers and software developers like Google. As camera, computer, and sensor technology progress, self-driving cars will be able to perform at the same level regardless of the weather.
It is only a matter of time before self-driving cars become readily available at your local dealerships. Already, there are many cars out there that can be optioned with driver’s assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, traffic and pedestrian detection systems and other features which should enhance the driving experience while reducing the level of stress during daily commutes.
In the end, self-driving cars have a bright future ahead of them thanks to the constant improvement in technologies and understanding of how the various sensors interact with one another. While, many people will have a tough time letting go of the steering wheel completely, they can be rest assured that if they want to stay in control, they can and when the don’t want to, the machine is there to take the task of driving off your hands.
Videos sourced from Hyundai and Google via You Tube.