Letting go of the Wheel: Autonomous Cars

Autonomous vehicles are on the precipice of entry into today’s technological landscape with predictions of mass public use in the next five years...

Singapore is leading in the race for the adoption of the first driverless cars. US based Software development start-up nuTonomy has teamed up with Grab, a taxi-hailing smartphone app, and together they have accomplished the first ever public trial of an autonomous taxi service in August.

Members of the public were able to hail a taxi and catch a ride in a fully automated vehicle for the first time on public roads. The Singapore government believe that self-driving cars could have a significantly positive impact on the economy, transportation efficiency and on the health and safety of the public.  The highly developed parts of the country provide a perfect environment for efficiency testing, boasting a solid infrastructure with favourable weather and a driving culture that adheres strictly to the driving rules.

Uber has also shown heavy interest in the development of autonomous vehicles, and has begun development in its Pittsburgh based Advanced Technologies Centre, the company’s research facility. Google and Tesla are among the other big name brands looking to secure commercial control of what will likely be one of the biggest technological advances in recent history. Both companies have experienced serious setbacks in recent times however, the most serious a fatality involving a driver of a Model S Tesla that failed to detect an oncoming lorry while running in autopilot.

Although the technology is far from perfect in its early stages of development, driverless cars are the subject of high praise by safety researchers. Driving is the number one cause of death in young people and stands at number five in the list of overall causes of death. With ninety percent of car crashes accounted to human error, it’s not hard to see why such technology would be welcomed when development improves.

Driverless cars would take our minds out of the consuming task of controlling a vehicle and allow us to apply our energy into something we deem more worthwhile. This could be getting mentally prepared for the day’s work, sleeping on an overnight journey, socialising with other passengers or making your way home from a late night party, the possibilities really are endless. This type of technology also has the potential to help those impeded by blindness and disability, by giving them mobility at all times of the day.

Recent development has focused on producing vehicles that would be able to interact with one another as well as interact with smart infrastructure.  The information gathered on the road could be relayed to traffic management centres that would track collisions and find ways to ease congestion therefore providing stress-free and efficient journeys for all.

A lot of the technology going into self-driving cars is coming out of the robotics community. Oxford University’s Robotics Institute is responsible for recent tests in the UK, comparable to those of carried out in Singapore by nuTonomy.  Many traditional automakers are having trouble developing in-house due to the fact the technology needed for autonomous vehicles are not traditional in the automotive industry.  Software development has provided a framework for reliable technology and centralised algorithms have the ability to control the motion, perception and most importantly the decision making of the car.

Autonomous vehicles are on the precipice of commercial existence and entry into today’s technological landscape with predictions of mass public use in the next five years. Fueling this revolution are forward thinking ideas of safety and productivity along with innovations in robotic and software engineering.

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