As we do move toward what will eventually be a reality, the autonomous car, there are many questions that must be asked that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the regulation of these cars. A car that will drive itself and allow you to focus on something other than the road while on the way to and from a destination offers a better way to drive and give you some of your time back. While we won’t see fully autonomous cars for a while, here are some of the questions you need to think about as we move forward to this advanced technology.
Is it safe to let go of the steering wheel?
Currently cars with semi-autonomous driving offer the adaptive cruise control which allows the car to maintain the following distance of cars ahead and a lane-centering technology that keeps the car where it should be in the lane. Using this can be a jarring feeling the first few times you use it, but it certainly will make you wonder because you are so used to doing the steering yourself.
How soon will we see cars that have at least semi-autonomous features?
We already have this technology on some cars such as the Tesla models that can use sensors to read the lane lines and keep the car centered in the lane. GM plans to launch their version of this technology by either 2017 or 2018 to do the same type of driving. Mercedes- Benz will also have this feature very soon but in all of these system the cars need to have the driver actually touch the wheel and take control occasionally.
Is this going to be across the board in the next round of vehicle updates?
Not really, and not fully autonomous. The semi-autonomous driving is going to be called Super Cruise where the car reads the lane lines and drives itself. When we have fully autonomous driving you will be able to put in your destination and sit back to watch a movie, read a book or catch up on social media while riding along allowing the car to do all the work. We are still a long way from the fully autonomous driving.
How does a car stay in the lane?
With the Super Cruise the car uses sensors, lasers, radar, cameras and GPS to know exactly where it us on the road at all times. Super Cruise is a marriage between adaptive cruise control and lane-centering technology to ensure the vehicle can maintain a set speed and distance to keep you safe while you don’t have to drive the car.
How confident can I be in the Super Cruise equipped vehicles?
Extremely confident. The GM models will use GPS to determine you are on a highway first, which is what the technology is made for and once it engages it will actually be a more efficient driver than any human can be. Many of these cars will be using vehicle to vehicle (V2V) technology to communicate with each other, but this will be limited to cars on this network.
Have there been laws created to legislate this technology?
Yes, recently and on a state-by-state basis there have bene laws passed to allow the testing of self-driving cars but it’s not widespread as of yet. In most cases the laws stipulate that someone must be in the driver’s seat to take control of the car and will be responsible for the effects of the car on the driving and the environment around them. This means the car and the technology cannot be responsible for a collision; at least not yet.
Is this even safe?
Because these cars use a network of active safety features and systems to control the vehicle they are extremely safe. The fact that the IIHS has put so much confidence in the forward collision alert systems to make them standard in the next round of testing to include the automatic braking that is part of this system.
Can I doze off while behind the wheel?
Not at all. Currently cars with this technology are also using sensors to monitor the alertness of the driver to ensure there is no napping. With this system in place a driver can be alerted to take control of the vehicle using audial, visual and haptic signals to ensure the driver is and stays alert in case control needs to be given back to the driver.
What does the future look like?
In the near future more cars will be equipped with Super Cruise and offer the semi-autonomous control we are enjoying on some cars already. After this we will see more advancements occur and even traffic signals improve to have advanced technology installed. In the long term there is expected to be a great deal of semi-autonomous vehicles and a full network of communication features to be enjoyed.
Can these systems avoid obstacles in the road?
Not yet, these systems are being made to detect another car, a pedestrian, an animal or a bike but won’t see a piece of a tire or other obstacle. Currently there is no system that will be able to do this at all for you when driving these cars. This is where the technology does have issues thus far and will still need to be developed.
How will this affect my driving skill level?
That is up to you, but the more we depend upon this technology to handle our driving for us the more we will lose our ability to drive well and react to changing conditions. Driving is a skill and practice certainly helps, which is yet another dilemma of creating autonomous vehicles.
Can I drive when I want to?
Absolutely, especially with the cars of today. As cars become more advanced you can expect to see some automakers try and take the driving completely away from us because they think the car will be able to drive much better than we can. Eventually this might be the overall result, but for now you can still drive as much as you want.