Traffic and parking are twin challenges of any major city, not just in the US, but across the globe.
As traffic increases and our roads get congested, can the entry of driverless cars or autonomous cars make a difference?
Are we looking at greener streets and cities and more importantly can driverless cars lead to our roads becoming safer even in a medium size city like Tucson?
These questions have been floating around for some time. In the meantime, technology is moving at a fast pace and we are inching closer to the days when driverless cars will be the new normal.
Self-driving projects have been an area of focus among university labs, government agencies, and a number of car and tech companies for a while now.
Companies such as Google, GM, Uber, and Tesla are in various stages of testing autonomous vehicles.
Having said that, it’s vital to state here that Google’s Waymo, despite going through some controversy with how is views America and China, is miles ahead of its competitors considering the fact that the tech giant first introduced its self-driving project way back in 2014.
In fact, Google began testing autonomous cars in the same year on public streets.
Although Waymo’s vehicles have been in two dozen crashes, the company has been quick to point out that among all these crashes, only two can be attributed to a fault with the vehicle. As of February 2018, the company had chalked up five million driving miles.
Safety of Autonomous Cars
An autonomous vehicle is manned by a robot that is programmed to be 100% compliant with traffic rules.
And also, because driverless cars are designed with sensors and advanced software tech which provides the car with a comprehensive view of the road, the general belief is that the car is far more sensitive to factors which can lead to collisions, both during the day and especially at night.
AVs come with a “light-detecting and ranging” (LIDAR) sensor which collects data from millions of lasers to create real-time 3D image of the landscape around the car.
These radar sensors can quickly and accurately measure both the speed at which an object is moving and its size while HD cameras accurately read signs and signals.
This data which is collected is then cross-referenced with GPS technology making it easy for the vehicle to chart its course.
However, one needs to keep in mind that the testing of AVs is conducted largely in stimulated environments. The real test of driverless technology happens in real-life on normal public roads.
Furthermore, the software can only draw on driving experiences of real people – which is why testing the technology on public roads is critical. In a bid to stimulate real street or road conditions, Google has built its own testing site called Castle.
Other companies have their own test sites as well which closely stimulate real-world conditions using props enabling them to test their tech without causing any damage to human life and property.
Can driverless cars help reduce car crashes?
According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), human error is the leading cause of crashes in 94 percent of cases.
One can argue that modern cars can be designed with advanced collision-avoidance systems or drivers can use semi-autonomous systems where control can transition from humans to computers as a way of reducing human error.
However, here again the danger with semi-autonomous systems is that drivers can still cause accidents because of distractions among other reasons.
So, there is a strong case for the use of driverless cars which effectively will reduce the number of humans behind wheels leading to fewer crashes and human fatalities. That’s the thought – unless what happened in Fast and Furious 8 becomes a reality!
In addition, the advantages of driverless cars are as follows:
- AVs can be summoned on-demand.
- They can be routed and managed far more efficiently.
- It can drastically reduce the number of single-passenger cars on the road which not only helps ease traffic but can lead to greener roads and cities.
- They can be used to improve last-mile connectivity if merged with public transportation.
Close to 50% of the cities allow testing of driverless tech on public streets – but these are heavily regulated.
Most of the testing, however, happens in the states of California, Arizona, Texas, and Washington. For now, driverless technology is here to stay. Whether it makes our street safer, well that remains to be seen.
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