With all the advances in artificial intelligence during the last few years, it was inevitable that one day that technology would be used to bring to life a very convenient feature of science fiction: self-driving cars.
While self-driving cars have been researched and tested for decades, only recently did we start to see some major breakthroughs, and it is clear that they will start to become commonplace very soon, thanks to the efforts of technology and automobile companies such as Tesla, Waymo, Uber and Google. However, there are still some challenges that need to be overcome before those cars enter our lives. Let’s see what they are:
The current state of the technology
Right now, the technology of self-driving cars is still under research, but very advanced research. We are not in the design and prototyping stage anymore. Instead, self-driving cars are already being tested on the streets. If you’ve been following news on technology, you’ve probably been seeing that, as it’s something that has been happening for some years, especially with Tesla cars.
However, that is a “beta test” in programming lingo, meaning that the technology is near the point of being ready for sale, but still has many technical matters which need to be tested in practice. This involves letting the program run and carry the user from one point to another multiple times while under its supervision. As of yet, we still can’t sleep while we let the car do its thing, unfortunately. But, the technology is bound to be released sometime during the next few years, even if it still needs human supervision.
Aside from the technical challenges, there are some other important problems that need to be dealt with before this technology becomes commonplace.
One of them is regulation. Western governments tend to exert tight control over road traffic, and that’s understandable. Everyday thousands of vehicles cross many kinds of roads throughout the world, carrying people, objects, animals and what not. Accidents can be deadly and can even end up blocking all traffic in a road.
So, before self-driving cars can be widely sold throughout a country, the local government will want the companies behind them to prove that they are completely safe, and after that they will enact legislation specifying how people will be able to use those cars, legislation which will probably evolve afterwards and become more permissive with time. Some deadly accidents involving self-driving cars have already happened, something which makes lawmakers and the population more apprehensive about them.
Another challenge is the fact that most cars in the streets are not self-driving, and won’t be for a long time. While self-driving cars are able to follow traffic laws to the letter, the people that drive common cars don’t always do it, meaning accidents can still happen, and owners of self-driving cars still face many risks while using them. As it’s a new technology, we can expect the self-driving module to be quite costly, and present only in newer cars, so common cars and self-driving ones are bound to coexist for some years, maybe decades.
Self-driving cars will certainly be rolling out during the next few years, although it will take some time until they are widely adopted, and even more time until they start to dominate the streets, as is usual with any kind of new technology. While most countries still need to adopt regulations for them, the European Union and Japan already enacted their own laws on it, and other countries will probably use them as models for their own.
However, as the technology improves and becomes more adopted by the population, we can expect our roads and highways to become safer than ever, both for drivers and pedestrians, as the reaction time of an AI is way greater than a person’s, and it can follow traffic laws without fail, thanks to GPS information, connection to other cars and self-updating traffic regulations. They are bound to turn our cities into calm, traffic jam-less paradises.