There is no way to avoid this change that is bearing down on us. If there is one thing humanity cannot seem to resist, it is making things as easy as possible. While necessity may be the mother of invention, laziness comes in a close second, and soon we will be asking why ever had our hands on the steering wheel and pressing pedals with our feet just to go down the street and through a roundabout to get to the grocers.
There have been slow advances over the last several years giving more and more responsibility for doing the frustrating parts of driving to the cameras and computers that exist inside them.
Of course, Self-Driving cars are already here, slowly being tested both in closed courses and in traffic the world over. Most famously, the Tesla automobile company (owned by Elon Musk, who seems to do everything to the extreme) ‘surprised’ owners of its electric cars by simply adding a software update that allowed for the car to essentially drive itself, where you put the destination into the computer as you would with your phone when getting directions.
The law was that you still had to be in the driver’s seat and be ready to grab the wheel if anything could go wrong, but it was a shot across the bow, so everyone who loves getting onto the open road better be ready for a sea change.
In many ways, the technology for self-driving cars has been around for decades. Cruise control is older than modern computers, having been available since the 1950s. Its modern use requires a simple click of a button on the dashboard, and the car will immediately stay at whatever speed you are currently going at.
Right away, its advantages and disadvantages are apparent. For long drives on mostly empty highways with few turns, it is ideal. However, for city driving, you will be setting it up and disengaging it too often for use. Getting stuck in Central London while checking escort reviews on your phone is not the right time for cruise control.
However, there is still plenty of autonomy because it was you who was setting the speed. With self-driving cars, you will have all the power as a regular passenger. This includes having little say in terms of what speed you will be driving at, whether in the city or on the M1.
If you ask pilots what the most challenging part of flying is, they would almost certainly answer ‘taking off and landing’, because everything in between there is flying in a mostly straight line with very slight turns. Similarly, there is nothing more frustrating for a driver than the beginning and the end of their journey.
Having to squeeze into a very tight parking space, especially if you’ve driven around the block for minutes to finally find it, can make even the most ardent car fan seat bullets and swear loudly. In fact, if you are driving one of your prized possessions, then you will probably be even more stressed since this is the moment when you might get a dent or scrape.
This is why many cars these days proudly advertise the feature that essentially parks the car for you. Initially, the screen that typically is for choosing your music would become a monitor that showed the image from the camera built into your car’s bumper or trunk, which would help you gauge how much space you had.
The next step after that was simple: Just have a computer program take the information from visual cues, slowly back up, turn the wheels, move forward, and repeat. If human error through misjudgment and impatience is why you would about to get into a fender bender when parallel parking, removing the human from equations was the obvious choice.
Cameras, Cameras Everywhere and More
Self-driving cars will have to replicate your eyes perfectly, and because of just how easy it is to turn your neck or quickly glance in a side or rearview mirror, they need plenty of information to make the right call when turning or changing lanes.
Teaching an AI program how to move a two-ton vehicle around is one thing, but having it react in real time the same way you do so there aren’t injured pedestrians and busted hedges in your wake requires a lot of cameras. At least twelve seem to do the trick for many of the self-driving prototypes being tested right now, but to ensure safety, there are several different systems working together, including radar and Lidar.
The latter being a small spinning device that shoots out light in various directions to get a ‘feel’ for what the world is like around the vehicle. One of the advantages of this is that it works in any lighting condition, which is a concern people have with how good cameras could detect objects in the dark.
What We Gain, What We Lose
For many people, the automobile is a necessity, not a hobby. So it would come as little surprise that many people would wholly endorse the idea of a vehicle that they can just sit in as if it was a living room on wheels taking them wherever they wanted while they stared at their mobile in a comfortable seat.
But for those of us who see the car as a symbol not only of freedom but of exploration and excitement, it makes sense that we would be a bit wary about self-driving cars. While we are allowed to drive our Land Rovers and Aston Martin’s alongside whatever sort of car the future will give us? Will we be relegated to a handful of scenic drives and racer tracks if we truly want to put the pedal to the metal?