Self driving cars are coming (some are even already here) and they will have a huge impact on the way we all live, work and travel. But are they out to harm us or help us? Let’s find out.
Through the years, technology has always improved our ways of transportation, whether it meant getting somewhere faster, safer, or more efficiently.
Way back in the day, we humans just had our legs to rely on for traveling. Then we found out we could jump on the back of horses to go faster.
Then some genius invented the wheel which led to bicycles and wagons, improving the efficiency of travel.
Finally, trains, planes, and automobiles revolutionized the transportation industry. The car quickly replaced the horse & carriage because people wanted to get to places faster & faster, and it was obvious the automobile was superior to the horse in almost every single way. (They’re cuter)
Now, humans (who are constantly prone to distractions and mistakes) are controlling these heavy machines at extremely fast speeds with many other human-controlled heavy machines zipping past one another in the opposite direction with only a couple of yellow paint lines separating total disaster.
Which brings us to the next transportation revolution: self-driving vehicles.
Also referred to as fully-autonomous, a self driving vehicle is one that does not need human intervention of any kind and is completely controlled by some combination of computer software, hardware, radars, sensors, and cameras.
It’s estimated that by the year 2030, there will be approximately 380 million partially or fully autonomous vehicles on the roads. Elon Musk claims that within a decade, self driving cars will be as common as elevators. That’s pretty much expected coming from a guy who likes to take things to the next level. (bad joke)
To fully understand how self driving vehicles will eventually take over all the roadways, let’s briefly go over the 6 different autonomy levels of vehicles.
Level 0 is No Automation. This is when a human driver is solely responsible for operating the vehicle at all times. Most cars up to this point in time are Level 0.
Level 1 is Driver Assistance meaning in certain driving modes, the car can either take control of the steering wheel or the pedals. However, the computer is never in control of both steering and acceleration. Some examples of level 1 are adaptive cruise control and parking assist.
Level 2 is Partial Automation which means the car can take over both the pedals AND the wheel, but only under certain conditions, and the driver must maintain ultimate control over the vehicle. A popular example of Level 2 is Tesla’s Autopilot.
Level 3 is Conditional Automation where the car can fully take over the driving responsibilities under certain conditions, but a driver is expected to retake control when the system asks for it. A Level 3 car can decide when to change lanes and how to respond to incidents on the road, but uses the human driver as the fallback system.
Level 4 is High Automation where the car can be driven by a human, but it doesn’t ever need to be. It can drive itself full time under the right circumstances, and if it encounters something it can’t handle, it can ask for human assistance, but will park itself and brings its passengers to safety if human help is not available. Level 4 is the first level that is truly self-driving. An example of this is Google’s Waymo self driving car, which is widely considered the leader in the fully autonomous car revolution.
Level 5 is Full Automation where a steering wheel is optional. At this level, the front seats might face backwards because the car doesn’t need any type of human intervention. The computer has full-time automation of all driving tasks on any road, under any conditions, whether there’s a human present or not.
This brings us to one of our big questions: How will self driving cars save the world?
According to Waymo, each year over 1.2 million people die on roadways. In the US alone, traffic collisions result in over 35,000 deaths per year, and 94% of US crashes involve human error or choice. Mature digital systems in self-driving cars are designed and expected to be exponentially safer than human drivers. Self driving vehicles won’t make the typical human mistakes like falling asleep at the wheel, driving drunk, having road rage, or texting while driving.
With all the benefits from the software, hardware, sensors, and cameras, a self driving car will be able to make instant decisions based on not only calculations from its internal system, but all self driving cars will eventually be connected to each other sharing real-time data. Sorta like the internet. For example, right now you can buy a smart refrigerator that’s connected to the internet, it has a touch screen where you can order food right from the fridge itself. And soon it will be able to automatically order food when it detects that it’s running low on something.
Self driving cars will be similar with something called collective intelligence. All self driving cars will eventually be completely up-to-date with each other so if one car detects an object in the road, it will immediately share that alert with all other cars. If you use the Waze app, you know this is already happening except with autonomous vehicles it will be automatically done by computers instead of relying on humans.
This leads us into the other main benefits of self driving cars: Savings & Convenience.
According to a study, Americans spent an estimated 6.9 billion hours in traffic delays in 2014, cutting into time at work or with family, and increasing fuel costs. However when self driving cars are sharing real-time data about the traveling conditions and they are programmed to see and detect everything around them, that’s when there will be a huge decrease in traffic congestion and wasted time.
Self driving cars will give the elderly & disabled a huge amount of freedom to travel nearly anywhere at anytime. Today there are 49 million Americans over age 65 and 53 million people have some form of disability, and in many places, employment relies on the ability to drive. Self driving vehicles could be the solution. In fact, one study suggests that self driving vehicles could create new employment opportunities for approximately 2 million people with disabilities.
Autonomous vehicles can lead to saving money because owning your own vehicle won’t be necessary for many people when self driving cars will be constantly available for picking up and dropping off. This will also lead to less land needed for big parking lots since most of the cars won’t be parking without anyone in it for long periods of time. Fewer accidents will lead to saving on insurance costs. A study from the NHTSA showed motor vehicle crashes in 2010 cost $242 billion in economic activity, including $57 billion in lost workplace productivity, and $594 billion due to loss of life and decreased quality of life due to injuries. The major improvement in safety with self driving cars could drastically reduce these costs.
So with all those benefits it might seem like a no-brainer, right? Well, let’s talk about some of the negative aspects of self driving cars.
First, Job Loss.
According to a Goldman Sachs report, when autonomous vehicle saturation peaks, US drivers could see job losses at a rate of 300,000 per year. In 2014, there were 4 million driver jobs in the US. That represents 2 percent of total employment which could theoretically be erased when self driving cars become viable.
However, with most technology breakthroughs, new jobs will come with it, for example: cyber security experts, which brings us to the next con: Security & Privacy.
Like with all computer systems, self driving cars will be susceptible to hacking. Autonomous vehicle security is something that will need to be taken very seriously because a successful cyber attack on one or more self driving cars could be detrimental to human safety and the transportation infrastructure.
Also the privacy concerns will be more significant when all cars will be tracked at all times with the data from the computers and cameras being collected and stored by multiple entities. Even though this might be extremely beneficial in situations like kidnappings and missing person cases, it also takes away certain privacy and freedoms from good law abiding citizens.
While most driving is repetitive and mundane, some people actually like operating a car and prefer to drive for relaxation or enjoyment. When the roadways are strictly taken over by self driving cars, it will most likely be against the law for a human driver to drive on public roadways. This is when there may be a boom in recreational driving businesses. They’ll probably be similar to golf courses. There will be a certain area of land that is dedicated to human driving only for those people who want to drive cars themselves.
The last negative is the initial cost of the self driving technology. While autonomous vehicles will eventually be worth it, the upfront cost of the engineering and implementation will be high.
Given all the pros and cons of self driving vehicles, what do you think? Are you for or against them? Let me know by leaving a comment in the description below!