A few big players in both auto and technology industry are very much interested in building a self driving cars. It is not going to be easy to realize fully self driving cars on the roads as there are still challenges ahead in terms of regulation, social and technical. However, the move towards a fully self driving car can be seen one step at a time. BMW for example, is going to showcase a car that can park itself in less than a week. Another example is Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk is personally testing on the enhanced autopilot in the company’s electric cars even Baidu, a Chinese web company, is trying to compete with Google with its own driverless car.
Myra Blanco, director of Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Center for Automated Vehicle Systems compared driverless car with cellphone. She used Motorola as an example. If Motorola engineers halted the development of cellphone 40 years ago since it was only able to perform a fraction of the current cellphone, then the cellphone industry would not be so advanced now. It is the same concept as driverless car.
Driverless car will also have problem which need to be solved and people will have to develop a counter measure to address the issue. Some of the solutions such as built-in backup systems or redundancies which currently exist in aircraft industry can be applied. For self-driving cars to move around, it will need a high-definition map and onboard cameras to recognize the surrounding terrain. In the really bad situation whereby the driverless car might not be able to perform its function, there is always the human driver to take over the job.
SAE International, an association of engineers, has come out with six levels of automation with level zero means there is no automation at all and level five means a fully automated car which need a little input from driver. The car which equipped with driver assistance today falls under SAE Level 2. Level 3, human drivers are allowed not to drive the car but no naps or texting would be allowed as they need to keep alert in case they need to take over the car. As for level 5, it is fully automated mode and human drivers able to take naps.
Driverless car is developed to minimize accidents while offering higher speed. Initially, it might be only available in the high-end car models; however, it will expect to be gradually available in budget vehicles within five years. However, for a fully driverless to be available on the market, it would need most probably around 20 years.