What is the potential for self-driving cars?

Interesting | April 26th, 2016 by 8
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There’s been no shortage of discussion involving self-driving cars, lately. Ever since Tesla debuted its Autopilot system, the whole idea of autonomous driving has become …

There’s been no shortage of discussion involving self-driving cars, lately. Ever since Tesla debuted its Autopilot system, the whole idea of autonomous driving has become even more real than we could have previously imagined. BMW, as well as us and several other automakers and publications, have talked a lot about the pitfalls of autonomous driving and how it could potentially be unsafe. We’ve also talked about how most enthusiasts are against the idea of self-driving cars, preferring to drive themselves. But we haven’t talked much about the great potential for the autonomous vehicle.

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Tesla’s Autopilot system

BMW recently held an event in which experts discussed the idea of autonomy in the auto industry, as well as artificial intelligence, and the potential for such technology. The biggest pro of self-driving cars will be safety, as 90 percent of the car crashes worldwide are due to human error. Eliminating the human from that scenario should greatly reduce that number, at least that’s the idea. We don’t know what sort of percentages computer error would make up for and won’t know until autonomous cars are being used on a very large scale. However, it’s worth trying to see if it can save lives. Although, according to BMW’s studies, only 1 percent of car crashes are caused by technical difficulties, showing that computers and technology are far more reliable than humans. So deaths should dramatically decrease.

Another benefit of autonomous driving would be help for the elderly or disabled. Anyone who’s been stuck behind a 90 year old driving a gold Buick understands exactly how much better life would be if said elderly were replaced by a machine. It could also help a disabled person, who can’t drive on their own, to get around without the need of someone else. Giving a disabled person their personal capability and freedom back is genuinely a wonderful thing and I’m sure anyone who needs to currently rely on a driver would love to have an autonomous vehicle.

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Then there’s the idea of car sharing, which we’ve already heard quite a lot about. There are theories going around that in the next 20 or 30 years, no one will actually own a car, but we’ll all be sharing cars. Shoot me the day that happens, but there are some benefits to car sharing on a small scale. Imagine, instead of taxis or Uber drivers, autonomously shared cars are available all over major cities, allowing people to use autonomous vehicles and leave them when they’re done with them for another person.  Sort of like little robotic chauffeurs. Though I think I can safely say that all of us enthusiasts would rather actually own a car than share one with anyone else.

Admittedly, there are some drawbacks. Right now, companies like Uber are credited with creating a lot of new jobs, which is fantastic, but autonomy and car sharing could eliminate so many jobs. Would you need taxi, limo or bus drivers if all of those vehicles could be replaced by autonomous versions? No, so all of those jobs would be lost, creating quite a bit of unemployment. There’s also the fear of large-scale damage. Say a network that controls or communicates with these autonomous cars crashes, even for just a brief moment, there could be hundreds of cars that crash at a time. Or if a network was hacked, they could be made to crash on a large scale. So there are some vulnerabilities.

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However, there’s an expression that I absolutely loath and it’s usually said when new technologies or developments are invented that may add complication to something while improving it and it goes something like”Well, that’s just one more thing that can break”. I hate when people say that because it’s such a close-minded thing to say. If engineers or scientists had that mindset, there’d be no progress in anything, ever. So just because there can be flaws with a new technology, or a possibility of failure, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pursuing. Autonomous cars have quite a large potential to be incredible in certain areas and applications. I don’t want a fully autonomous car, as I like to drive, but having them exist for certain applications is certainly something that would bring more good than harm.

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