If we look back to all the films and cartoons we’ve watched as kids, autonomous vehicles have always been a vision of the future. Although many of us expected autonomous vehicles to be a reality by now, Bloomberg’s guide to the current race towards self-driving cars shows that there are lots of players looking to bring this technology to us sooner rather than later.
One of the developments from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the creation of automated delivery drones and cars that help people get the groceries they need. This small development speaks to the massive potential that autonomous vehicles could have on our society.
As the technology for autonomous vehicles continues to develop, both manufacturers and governments alike are growing increasingly aware of the need to create physical and legal infrastructures that support such innovations. So with that in mind, this article will outline just how far we’ve come when it comes to developing self-driving cars, and how much further we have yet to go.
The current state of affairs
The aforementioned Bloomberg article points to the fact that vehicle manufacturers such as General Motors and Daimler have either backed out of their promises to put autonomous vehicles on the road or scrapped deadlines in favour of a more open-ended schedule. The issue is that many of these manufacturers pegged 2020 as their deadline for these autonomous vehicles to be released, but no one could have predicted the massive halt that COVID-19 would have put on manufacturing. However, Tesla still hopes to meet its goal of one million autonomous taxis on the road by next year.
Indeed, Tesla’s promise to create autonomous taxis speaks to the potential that autonomous vehicles must revitalise entire transport systems. While there are bound to be tons of private autonomous vehicles on the road, this technology can be expanded to encompass other forms of transportation. After all, who’s to say that we can’t have autonomous buses and trams on the road, too?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s also worth noting that the software itself isn’t quite there yet. When autonomous vehicles were first starting to be developed, it quickly became clear that the tech needed to be as thorough as possible in order to be safe enough. Incidents of autonomous vehicles crashing into lampposts (and sometimes even people) mean that this technology still has to be refined further.
Researchers from the University of Munich are developing autonomous vehicle software that predicts traffic situation variations in a matter of milliseconds. It’s this kind of predictive technology that needs to be adopted in order for autonomous vehicles to be truly accessible to all.
Updates are also a huge factor to be considered when it comes to such software. The updates will have to be delivered instantly in order to prevent accidents before they even happen, but will also need to be easily downloadable to maintain a user-focused experience.
The infrastructure needed
For autonomous vehicles to truly be safe on the roads, there needs to be technology solutions that allow cars to communicate with one another and the world around them. This overview of connected car technology by Verizon Connect suggests that vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) systems will allow for short-range communication. While vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) relies on data gathered from smart sensors to transmit data such as traffic congestion and weather conditions to vehicles on the road.
This view is mirrored in our post on The Future of Roads, which just goes to show that putting autonomous vehicles on the road will require work from more than just the car manufacturers. As mentioned in our article, smart infrastructure will even require us to reform safety tolls to make sure they have more sensors and controlled entrances.
Physical infrastructure isn’t the only system that needs to be set in place for autonomous vehicles — legal infrastructure, both locally and internationally, also has to be established to ensure these vehicles are safe. A safety operator for Uber’s self-driving car program was recently charged with the death of a pedestrian that occurred in 2018. The gap between the incident and this ruling highlights that lawmakers are still in the process of figuring out the rules and regulations for these autonomous vehicles, especially as the tech has proven that it still needs to be refined to ensure everyone’s safety.
The promise of autonomous vehicles seems great on paper, but the reality is that there is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done to make this dream a reality. The pandemic has stopped these innovations coming to market for now, so it looks like there’s no clear deadline for when we’ll be able to see them.
However, this setback could actually be an advantage for manufacturers in a bid to refine their products and make sure that autonomous vehicles are truly ready for the road.