Technology is moving at a pretty rapid pace. One minute you're looking at the fancy gadgets in your car and playing with the infotainment system; the next, you've got your feet up in a self-driving car. Ok, so we're not quite at the stage where autonomous vehicles are on the roads, but we're not far off. They're definitely a thing, and probably aren't as far away from becoming normalised as you think. So if you're wondering about the future of motor vehicles, we've got you covered with everything you need to know about self-driving cars.
Tell me, what is a self-driving car?
The cars you drive today are becoming more autonomous, with extras like automatic emergency braking, lane-departure assist and self-parking, but they're not fully self-driving. A fully self-driving car performs every action on the road without someone in the driver's seat.
There are many concepts out there being rigorously tested by the manufacturers currently experimenting with self-driving cars. But they're not cleared to be on the road, and the technology isn't at the point where it'll guarantee the car drives seamlessly without making any mistakes.
Can I buy a self-driving car?
We're a little way off from walking into a car dealership and buying a self-driving car. So that'd be a no, then.
Why do we need self-driving cars?
That's a good question, and you could argue that we don't particularly need them. Then again, when people were relying on horses to get from a to b, they probably didn't imagine a world where they could drive a car.
The people working on autonomous cars argue that they will be safer, as the human error will be removed from the equation. Yet, without any real-world data to go by, it's hard to prove the theory. So we'll need to wait a little longer before we know for sure if self-driving cars are safer.
How do self-driving cars work?
The current prototypes require hardware and software to run, which is similar to pretty much anything driven by technology. The software involved connects a suite of sensors that tell the car to perform actions like accelerate, brake and steer.
For a car to genuinely self-drive, an element of artificial intelligence will likely be required so it can safely take you from Point A to Point B. Then there's the hardware, the physical sensor that detects the car's movements on the road. The sensors collect the data and make sense of everything so it can run without human input.
Who's making self-driving cars?
If there's a self-driving car, you can bet that Tesla has something to do with it. Ol' Elon likes to push the boundaries with his cars, whether it's making hybrids, trying to build underground roads in California or creating concepts of autonomous vehicles.
Uber is another company currently creating self-driving cars. Now, at first glance, a taxi service with no prior history of car manufacturing might catch you off guard. But Uber clearly has grand designs of getting us all ordering an Uber powered by self-driving technology. What happens to the current drivers is anybody's guess.
Tell me about the levels of autonomy
Ok, so there are six levels of self-driving technology, with zero being the lowest and five being the, you guessed it, highest.
- Level 0 – the car reacts to the driver's inputs and uses sensors to warn you of things like blind spots
- Level 1 – your car can intervene at a basic level in your driving in an attempt to keep you safe
- Level 2 – features in your car can communicate with each other
- Level 3 – the car is able to drive by itself in very limited conditions, but the driver must stay behind the wheel
- Level 4 – the car can drive itself in a fixed loop on known roads
- Level 5 – the car drives itself at any level without human intervention, and there is no steering wheel and or pedals. Level 5 isn't yet a reality.
Who's gonna drive you home?
We're getting closer to a world of self-driving cars, but we aren't there just yet. It will be such a fundamental change to our lives on the road when it does happen, so it makes sense that companies are taking baby steps. So don't go and forget how to drive just yet, as you've got plenty of time left behind the wheel.