Imagine cruising on a highway in your vehicle with the wind blowing through your hair, when suddenly, a car pulls up to your left. As you look towards the driver’s seat, you don’t see anyone sitting there, just a steering wheel shifting all on its own. Such a situation may seem bizarre and disconcerting at first glance, but it could become a reality very soon. We are talking about driverless (or autonomous) cars, which should become common in the coming years, and fundamentally change how we get from one place to another. Companies like Google, Tesla, Waymo, Ridecell, and many others are at the forefront of creating and adapting to the changes.
How driverless cars work
The driverless cars currently in development look just like ordinary cars, but they are packed with some very advanced and unique technologies. In order to navigate the roads without human observation, control, and input, driverless cars rely on a built-in computer that connects to the acceleration, brakes, lights, and other systems of the car to perform the same driving functions of a human driver. The computer is also connected to GPS, cameras, sensors, radar, and lasers to “see” everything on the road and navigate safely. There is currently no universal standard for driverless cars, so when they become widespread, some may require a human driver behind the wheel and delegate some responsibilities to them, while others will lack a steering wheel altogether and be able to drive even without passengers.
When we will see them
Fully autonomous cars are still being developed and perfected, so the very few ones that are on the roads today are mostly carrying out tests. Still, some self-driving features are already available to consumers, such as the Autopilot feature of Tesla cars and similar features of other automakers. Based on current estimates, the first commercially-available self-driving cars should become available in the next 1-2 years, and become very common over the next several decades.
About safety concerns
Apart from perfecting self-driving technologies, some of the biggest hurdles that self-driving cars are facing pertaining to safety and legislation. For example, in the USA, current legislation obligates a driver with a permit to sit behind the wheel of the car and carry full responsibility for its activities on the road. There have also been many concerns about factors like weather and bad lighting causing traffic accidents involving driverless cars, though the vast majority of the accidents involving such cars have been caused by other cars and drivers. As technology develops, we should see significant changes in safety precautions and legislation.
While most drivers interested in driverless cars just dream about spending their commute without worrying about the road, the uses of driverless cars are much greater than this one convenience. For example, many taxi companies are looking to build an empire of robot taxis, and delivery companies eagerly await the chance to make automated shipments with minimal stops and simpler logistics. Furthermore, driverless cars could decrease the prevalence of drunk driving and the number of traffic accidents. Finally, it is important to mention that driverless cars will be more efficient in their performance and emissions.