The future of driving is not just about electrification. It’s about automation.
Yes, just as it seems like science fiction to drive several hundred miles without a drop of gas (available now, of course, with the growing popularity of electric vehicles, you’ll soon be the passenger rather than the driver of an autonomous vehicle.
Imagine one day you get into your self-driving car in the morning, and since it’s a weekday, it knows you want to go to the office, unless you tell it otherwise. When he drops you off, the vehicle comes home instead of you paying for parking.
Or maybe your vehicle is part of a city’s ride-sharing network and charges daytime fees and makes you money in the process. He knows he’ll pick you up after work, maybe after he brings his dry cleaning, and he can take a nap on the way home to feel refreshed with the family over dinner.
But how, when and where truly self-driving cars will become the norm is up for debate, though experts agree it’s coming “in the future” perhaps sooner than you think.
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Why autonomous vehicles?
According to Renub Research, a market research and consulting firm, the US autonomous vehicle market will skyrocket to a $186 billion industry by 2030, up from $4 billion in 2021, according to their recently released report. .
In addition to the comfort of being driven, self-driving cars are said to be a safer ride.
That is, if human error accounts for up to 94% of all traffic accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, then perhaps it makes sense to rely more on technology to help keep us safe.
A driverless car will not put its driver or others at risk of accidents caused by potentially dangerous human behavior or conditions such as speeding, reckless driving, drowsiness, distracted driving, or disability due to alcohol or drugs.
Autonomous vehicles can also lead to less congestion on highways because cars could communicate with each other and change routes based on traffic, accidents or construction.
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How self-driving cars work
“There are numerous benefits to autonomous vehicles,” said Jason Fischer, executive chief engineer for autonomous technology at General Motors (GM).
“Ultimately, our goal is to eliminate human driver error while creating more time and space for what really matters in life and improving mobility for those who are currently unable to drive due to age, disability or other factors.” Fisher adds.
These vehicles can sense their surroundings and avoid obstacles, obey traffic laws and arrive at a pre-selected destination, thanks to technologies such as cameras, radar, sonar, lidar, GPS and infrared sensors in the vehicle.
Fischer says they have already launched their commercial autonomous taxi service in a major city.
“Cruise, our autonomous transportation partner, is already offering fee-based rides on the streets of San Francisco, and we will continue to see growth in the space for years to come,” he said.
When pressed for a timeline, Fischer says GM aims to “deliver personal autonomous vehicles as early as the middle of the decade.”
So where are we today with self-driving cars?
Most major auto companies already offer semi-autonomous hands-free technologies in their vehicles, explains Kristin Kolodge, vice president of auto benchmarking and mobility development at JD Power.
“Think of it as an extra set of eyes that can provide some vehicle control, such as keeping a distance from a vehicle in front of you, a form of adaptive cruise control, as well as maintaining your lane position for you and changing lanes. in a safe way. also.”
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“We don’t have the ability to take the driver out of the equation right now…the driver can’t just disengage and stop paying attention to the road,” adds Kolodge.
But it may come as soon as next year.
Nik Miles of Our Auto Expert, a 20-year veteran as an automotive broadcaster and commentator, agrees that we’re nowhere near “Level 5” or “fully autonomous” yet, but we’re currently evolving from “Level 2” to “Level 3”. ” (also known as “conditional automation”).
“Today, if you don’t have your eyes looking straight ahead, Tesla Autopilot or the GM-powered Super Cruise will shut off and you’ll have to put your hands back on the wheel,” confirms Miles.
“Level 3 autonomy will come first to California next year, followed by Nevada, where you don’t necessarily have to keep your eyes on the road. [so you] you can play Sudoku or watch a video, for example,” says Miles.
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Even in its current state, hands-free driving is available in more places.
Earlier this month, GM announced that it will soon double its Super Cruise highway network, adding hundreds of thousands of additional highway miles in the US and Canada.
GM vehicles built on the VIP electric architecture will be the first to receive the upgrade later this year, delivered at no additional charge over the air.
Super Cruise currently operates on mapped divided highways (also known as interstates), but this expansion adds several additional state and federal routes, a mix of divided and undivided highways, including The Mother Road (Route 66), Pacific Coast Highway (CA Route 1 ), the Overseas Highway (U.S. Route 1), and the Trans-Canada Highway, which runs through all 10 Canadian provinces, totaling more than 4,645 miles.
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Along with steering in your lane, Super Cruise speeds up or slows down the vehicle and, depending on the model, can perform both driver-initiated and system-initiated lane changes.
What are the obstacles for fully autonomous cars?
“The obstacles are multifaceted,” Kolodge said. “Sure, technically it’s a challenge for the vehicle to handle all conditions, with a high level of confidence that the system delivers that kind of performance.”
“Certainly there are also regulatory issues, which are state by state, which makes it challenging,” Kolodge said.
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“And a lot of my work focuses on the acceptable barrier for the consumer, and the truth is that many are skeptical about autonomous vehicles. Customers don’t necessarily ask for this kind of technology,” says Kolodge. “Essentially they need a lot more testing and they want to know how it will benefit their lives, plus there are concerns about loss of control leading to accidents and whether cars can be hacked or hijacked.”
“And I think it will take some time for autonomous vehicles to be fully implemented.”
In the state-by-state regulatory and/or legislative hurdles, Miles presents a possible barrier: the income of bad drivers.
“Consider that self-driving cars don’t break the law, and there are some cities in the United States that get close to 100% of their revenue from traffic violations like speeding and running red lights,” adds Miles.
Cost is another potential hurdle in the adoption of autonomous vehicles.
“They are advanced and complicated systems, and not only are we already in a chip crisis, consider that 50% of the world’s neon comes from Ukraine, which is used in the manufacture of semiconductors, a country in the midst of a war,” he says. . miles “So, that doesn’t help either.”
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There are also other questions, such as insurance and liability questions. “Most manufacturers don’t want to apply for Level 3 because the responsibility lies with the manufacturer and not with the individual,” adds Miles.
“As an industry, there are a lot of things we need to figure out, but eventually we will get there.”
Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Send him an email or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.