Monday, August 15, 2016

Fast and Furious: Automated Drift

     You could see a self-driving car next to you on the highway before you know it. Now I know what you're thinking: "self-driving cars? That's not safe! You can't trust a computer to safely guide a car going 60 mph on the highway. The computer won't know what to do. This won't happen." Well, while that's a valid rebuttal, here is a rebuttal to that rebuttal: "yeah, but humans."
     I'm not advocating for driverless cars, I appreciate being able to take control of my Volkswagen and I don't feel like forfeiting my driving privileges anytime soon, but at the same time, the positives should be looked at. Where a computer may or may not know right from wrong, neither do us humans, apparently. That is why we do such things as rush through yellow (and red) lights, fail to yield, U-turn in the worst places, weave in and out of traffic, street race, speed on wet roads, try to outrun trains, block the passing lane, and LEAVE ON HIGH BEAMS. Seriously, please turn off your brights when you're not the only car around. If you're going to ride behind someone with your brights on, then they might as well be driving with their eyes closed. Anyway, while a computer can still make these mistakes, would it make them as often as we do?
     Eating and driving (I saw someone eating soup on Interstate 85 one time), texting and driving, drinking and driving, dressing and driving, doing makeup and driving, email and driving, sex and driving (more common than you think), reading books and driving...matter of fact, here's 51 things people have been caught doing while driving that you, well, shouldn't do while driving. It can be said with 100 percent certainty that a computer could not and would not do any of this. So while there is a potential of accidents from miscalculations, you won't have to worry about your automated Camry coloring with crayons or clipping toenails en route to your destination.
     Another thing to think about: our transportation is already pretty automated. While planes have pilots and trains have engineers, there is heavy automation involved. Why? Well because the honest truth is computers provide a lesser risk of error and are better at the math. Airline pilots sometimes have to fly tired, but a planes computer system is always awake. Today's planes and many trains typically operate themselves, with pilots and engineers taking over for specific tasks. So why not cars? Well for one, cars are around each other much more than planes and trains, and keeping them all on the same page is not easy. Cars, unlike planes and trains, are meant to be personal.
     Google's driverless cars have driven over 1,725,911 miles as of June. Driverless car tests are currently legal in only 8 states and DC. Since Google began testing, there has only been one news-worthy incident which involved a Google car and a bus. No one was injured and the bus was only traveling 15 mph, with the Google car going less than 2 mph. Tesla has also been testing driverless cars, and while they've made strides, they unfortunately haven't been as lucky as Google. Joshua Brown, the driver of a Tesla Model S, was killed in May 2016 when an 18-wheeler turned left at an intersection and his car failed to apply the brakes.
     While driverless cars are close to becoming a reality, there are still bugs, hurdles, limitations, and legislation that must be fixed, cleared, and passed, and that'll all take some time. 42 states still don't allow driverless testing, and zero allow compete automated driving. New road laws will have to be proposed and passed, and many questions have to be answered. Should there be a passenger limit? Should the cars be allowed on interstates, limited-access highways, and toll roads? Should regulation be left up to the states or federal? If a driverless car causes an accident, who is at fault? How does this affect car insurance? Should there be weather restrictions? How will these cars' computer systems be protected from hackers? Can 18-wheelers, limousines, and taxis be driverless too? How will this affect automotive industry jobs? Can Uber cars be driverless? All of these questions and more will have to be addressed before driverless cars can fully share the road. 
     Driverless car adoption will likely be slow. This would be a major technological change; much more major than switching from flip phones to smartphones or dial up to broadband. And honestly, most people are not ready to give up the freedom of driving, and never will be. When driverless cars do appear on the market, the option to be able to switch back and forth (like an airplane with auto-pilot) will have to be there. Having the car automated doesn't mean it won't include a steering wheel and a manual mode. Take Will Smith's I Robot for example. The movie was set in 2035 and featured Will sitting back in his automated Audi while it drove along (at like 120 mph), yet whenever circuits hit the fan, Will summoned the steering wheel with the click of a button (which was technically illegal in the movie, going that fast).
     The days of complete human control may be numbered, but the days of a computer completely taking over your trip shouldn't be coming anytime soon. Driverless cars won't end car accidents, but they could be a start to smarter driving. Either way, the auto industry is going to have to going to have to keep up. Ridesharing and carsharing are starting to make consumers think twice about ownership.

*sources: Wikipedia, New York Times, Fortune, The Verge, Citylab, The Redhead Riter

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