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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Autonomous vehicle

An autonomous vehicle is a one that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Many such systems are evolving, but as of 2017 no vehicles permitted on public roads are fully autonomous. They all require a human at the wheel who must be ready to take control at any time. Think of it as a car with an auto pilot.

Driver error is the most common cause of road accidents in India. Cell phones, music systems, flashing lights are some of the common causes of distraction for drivers. Driverless vehicles, will hopefully prevent accidents by concentrating on the roads and environment for us.
The potential benefits of autonomous vehicles include reduced mobility and infrastructure costs, increased safety, increased mobility, increased customer satisfaction and reduced crime. Specifically, a significant reduction in traffic collisions; the resulting injuries and related costs, including less need for insurance. 

Autonomous vehicles are predicted to 

  1. Increase traffic flow; 
  2. Provided enhanced mobility for children, the elderly disabled and the poor; 
  3. Relieve travellers from driving and navigation chores; 
  4. Lower fuel consumption; significantly reduce needs for parking space;
  5.  Reduce crime and facilitate business models for mobility as a service, especially via the sharing economy. 
Essentially, the objective of autonomous vehicles on the roads are to save human lives, reduce costs and lessen resource consumption.
These vehicles use a variety of technologies like radar, laser, GPS, odometry, computer vision etc to detect their surroundings. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage. These vehicles also have the ability to distinguish among various objects on the roads.
Some of the most common technologies used in making a system fully autonomous are Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning System, Automated Guided Vehicle System, Night Vision and Hands-Free Parking.
Major players working towards achieving this modern wonder are Fiat, Apple, BMW, Audi, Intel, Google, Volvo, Bosch, Uber, Tesla & Ford. However, we are still far from achieving the target objective.
Now, there are levels of driving automation as well.
  1. Level 0 - No Driving Automation
  2. Level 1 - Driver Assistance
  3. Level 2 - Partial Driving Automation
  4. Level 3 - Conditional Driving Automation
  5. Level 4 - High Driving Automation
  6. Level 5 - Full Driving Automation

Most of the companies mentioned above are not even close to the finishing line. The maximum we have seen till now is Level 4 autonomy, and companies working towards achieving Level 5 in next few years.
We need just two eyes and two ears to drive. Those remarkable sensors provide all the info we need to, say, know that a fire engine is coming up fast behind you, so get out of the way. 

Autonomous vehicles need a whole lot more than that. They use half a dozen cameras to see everything around them, radars to know how far away it all is, and at least one lidar laser scanner to map the world. Yet even that may not be enough.
Possible technological obstacles for autonomous vehicles are:
Software reliability.
Artificial Intelligence still isn't able to function properly in chaotic city environments.
Susceptibility of the car's sensing and navigation systems to different types of weather or deliberate interference, including jamming and spoofing.
Avoidance of large animals requires recognition and tracking, and Volvo found that software suited to different animals needed to be made separately.
Autonomous vehicles may require very high-quality specialised maps to operate properly. Where these maps may be out of date, they would need to be able to fall back to reasonable behaviours.
Cost (purchase, maintenance, repair and insurance) of autonomous vehicle as well as total cost of infrastructure spending to enable autonomous vehicles and the cost sharing model.
A direct impact of widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles is the loss of driving-related jobs in the road transport industry. There could be resistance from professional drivers and unions who are threatened by job losses. 

In addition, there could be job losses in public transit services and crash repair shops. The automobile insurance industry might suffer as the technology makes certain aspects of these occupations obsolete.
Potential loss of privacy and risks of automotive hacking. Sharing of information through V2V (Vehicle to Vehicle) and V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) protocols. There is also the risk of terrorist attacks. Self-driving vehicles could potentially be loaded with explosives and used as bombs.
The lack of stressful driving, more productive time during the trip, and the potential savings in travel time and cost could become an incentive to live far away from cities, where land is cheaper, and work in the city's core, thus increasing travel distances and inducing more urban sprawl, more fuel consumption and an increase in the carbon footprint of urban travel.
There is also the risk that traffic congestion might increase, rather than decrease. Appropriate public policies and regulations, such as zoning, pricing, and urban design are required to avoid the negative impacts of increased suburbanization and longer distance travel.
Research shows that drivers in autonomous vehicles react later when they have to intervene in a critical situation, compared to if they were driving manually.

Even though we have so many disadvantages mentioned, we see that top companies in the world are gearing up to reach the level 5 of automation and make driving human free. However, it may be at least 5 more years till we see an autonomous vehicle on public roads.


Note: The views expressed here are those of authors and not necessarily represent those of DOT Club as a whole.

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