Self-driving cars: Fasten your seatbelt and get ready for a bright future

Imagine living in a society where there is no need to drive a car anymore. You wake up in the morning, take your coffee with you, get in the car, set up the location you want to go and the car starts moving towards the location autonomously. After, you start drinking your coffee, starting to work or go through your mail or maybe start talking to the phone and as you may have thought, yes it will be a reality, no one can fine you for that. The aforementioned scenario seems like an utopia, but it is not that far. In around 30 years from now, self-driving cars have a high possibility of being on the roads with nothing to fear or to be jealous of humans. An autonomous car is a vehicle that is working without any help from a human and the passenger is not required to take any action at any time due to the sensors, cameras, radars and Artificial Intelligence that the car contains.

Autonomous cars can lead to a bright future for our society. A self-driving car has the potential to decrease gas emissions, decrease human error that lead to car accidents and probably to someone’s death, help disabled and elder people live a more independent life and make our lives in general more convenient and effective due to some freedoms that will bring with them. For sure, every new technology can bring problems with it that will have to be addressed in order to take full efficiency from that technology. This article has as a goal to illustrate some of the outstanding advantages that autonomous cars can give to humans and try to show that these advantages are far more than the setbacks but at the same time identify them, in order for some measures to be taken before the time arrives.

Environment

For many years now, environmental pollution has been a very common topic for debates. One of the most common reasons for air pollution is undoubtedly the vehicles. Transportation-related greenhouse gas (CHG) emissions account for around 29% of total U.S, making it the greatest source of GHG emissions. GHG emissions in the transportation industry increased more than any other sector in absolute terms between 1990 and 2019.

Keeping that in mind, self-driving cars is the solution for yet another time. In the future, when AVs will be a reality, fewer and fewer people will have the need of owning a car, due to the reason that there will be no need for a car when you can just order one that will come and pick you and take you whenever you want. What does that mean for the environment? As Robin Chase, the founder and CEO of Buzzcar, a peer-to-peer car sharing service, states:

“This [has the potential to] dramatically reduce the number of cars on the street, 80% of which have people driving alone in them, and also a household’s cost of transportation, which is 18% of their income—around $9,000 a year—for an asset that they use only 5% of the time,”.

Additionally, the technology of AVs can help the energy use of cars to improve, because the way they brake and accelerate will be better, according to the department of energy and this can lead to a decrease of gas by 90%

It is highly expected that most of the AVs will be electric. This electrification will surely have a positive impact on air pollution. Furthermore, AVs will bring to the environment the repurpose of the land. As it is stated above, fewer cars will be around and so many parking lots and spaces that cover a huge amount of land, for example in the US it is roughly about one third of the land area, can be converted to something else. One possibility that appears from that change, is that we will have greener urban areas, that can lead to fresher air and less air pollution that will surely make big cities have a better environment for their residents.

Self-driving cars will impact in a good manner the environment

Effectiveness and Convenience

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will have a huge impact on making humans more effective and have a more comfortable life. Back in 2014, research indicated that Americans spent roughly an estimated 6.9 billions hours in traffic jams. Self-driving cars have the potential to change situations like that due to the sensors and radars and AI that they include. AVs will make better decisions, will improve the traffic flow and take more efficient roads to arrive at their location on time. 

In addition, a strong example on why our lives will become more productive is the fact that humans will not be required to pay attention to the road and there is no need to be honest. Self-driving cars will have the ability to face any situation regardless of how difficult it will be. That means, people will have the opportunity to catch up on their work, read, or make phone calls. This is very important, especially for someone who lives far from his work for example, will give the opportunity to work until the time that he arrives in the office or after work that will be heading home and this may free some time in his day, to give more attention to family, friends etc rather than working. People will also have more free time during their day, because there will be no need to search for a parking anymore, since AVs will give the opportunity to drop people off, find a parking spot wherever they want and come back to pick you up. A recent research, indicates that self-driving cars could free up to 50 minutes each day per passenger in the United States.

People do not want to be late, at least most of them. People are very probable to be late at work, at a meeting or to pick up someone from the airport for example, because of many reasons. To go faster to the location you want if you are late, it is illegal to drive too fast, because you will be fined by the police. This is a very common reason not to run and of course because you do not want to get hurt or hurt someone due to high speed. How can AVs solve this? Well, if we have only automated cars on the roads that means that a raise to speed limit can be applied. AVs will have the ability to stop easier, and pay attention to what is happening around and take a decision immediately, so higher speed limits will give solutions to problems like this because AVs will know how to respect and take advantage of speed. Furthermore, AVs can make some jobs easier. Police officers will not need to be on the roads to fine people because of overcoming the speed limit or driving drunk or dangerous. Also, hospital workers will have far less emergencies due to car accidents, something very exciting for them and for all of us also.

Safety

According to the World Health Organization, 1.35 million people died as a result of road accidents in 2016. In reality, more people die nowadays from traffic accidents rather than from AIDS. In addition, every year, about 35.000 individuals are killed in car accidents in the United States alone. Distraction while driving is a major factor in car accidents, and alcohol is responsible for around 30% of all road deaths in the United States. There are several studies that self-driving cars will be able to reduce the probability of a car crashing by 33% while there are other studies that show a 90% reduction to car crashes. Because self-driving cars may theoretically react faster than human drivers and do not drive drunk, texting while driving or being tired, they should be able to significantly increase car safety.

According to NHTSA, the human driver will be removed from the sequence of events that could result in a collision. The advanced technology of automated vehicles not only can help to the protection of drivers and passengers, but also to bicyclists and pedestrians.

“If you recognize that self-driving cars are going to prevent car accidents, AI will be responsible for reducing one of the leading causes of death in the world.”

Mark Zuckerberg

Mobility

While automated vehicles make rides safer even if it is difficult to estimate the complete societal advantages of them, their transformational potential is recognized. When self-driving cars are fully developed, automated driving systems have the potential to improve mobility for disabled and elder people who cannot easily drive or are not able to drive at all. In addition, automated vehicles can extend transportation alternatives for marginalized groups. 

Ethics

Although the evolved AI systems that will be installed in the automated vehicles, self-driving cars will inevitably sometimes crash so programming self-driving cars for crashes involves ethical choices. A self-driving automobile detects its surroundings using modern sensor technology and then employs complex algorithms to forecast the course of nearby (moving) objects. Self-driving cars can also connect with one another through information technology, allowing for improved coordination between different vehicles on the road. Even if communication between cars and sensors are working properly, automated vehicles might not have enough time to avoid collisions with objects that abruptly change direction and sometimes cars collide with each other. However, having a small crash between cars might not be the biggest problem here, but pedestrians, cyclists and wildlife naturally come to mind here. In addition, we must take into consideration human-driven cars because according to experts, self-driving cars will drive alongside human-driven cars for a long time. For this particular reason, automated vehicles need to be developed in a way they can respond to situations in which a collision is unavoidable. Human reaction-times are not as fast as an AI system, so a self-driving car will not panic in a situation that a human would. Automated vehicles need to be programmed to control as much as it can the crash and cause the least damage. The car can determine the most likely outcomes of multiple trajectories that involve varying combinations of braking and swerving based on sensor inputs and other information it has access to.

Ethical decision of a self-driving car

According to a report by the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), because of the powerful computers that self-driving cars have, they are vulnerable to hacking. In case a car is hacked, it could be dangerous for both passengers and pedestrians.

In another article by Jason Kornwitz, it is mentioned that in case that the car performs any substantial computations via connecting to the outside world via the cloud, it requires some sort of internet access for functionality, or totally relies on outside sensors to make all choices, and this will make it vulnerable to hackers. As a result, particularly complex systems, such as automated vehicles, may contain weaknesses that hackers can attack. Hackers can also attack the sensors of the cars which will make the car “lose” its judgment and cause a serious collision or even worse, a fatal incident.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that automated vehicles have some drawbacks that were mentioned before, automobile companies can find solutions to these problems and the advantages of self-driving cars can outweigh the disadvantages. An automated vehicle has the potential of reducing gas emissions, help disabled and elderly people in living more independently, and of course reduce human error that could lead into car accidents. Without a doubt, any new technology brings with it issues that must be handled in order to maximize the efficiency of that technology.

“Self-driving cars are the natural extension of active safety and obviously something we should do.”

Elon Musk

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