Autonomous driving seems to be the big craze at the moment. Every automaker is scrambling to get their own autonomous technology, even if it’s just basically a fancy cruise control. Tesla has their own version, BMW has one, Cadillac is supposed to be coming out with one, Mercedes, Volvo, you get the point. Being able to say “Look, Ma, no hands!” is going to be possible very soon.
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At the moment, all of these aforementioned automakers’ autonomous cars are basically just really advanced cruise control. Each system works, essentially, the same way; by using an array of sensors to monitor the vehicles around the car and the lines in the road and uses that information to keep the car in the lane, slow down and speed up as necessary. These autonomous features are typically only available to use on the highway at cruising speeds or in bumper to bumper traffic. This watered-down version of autonomous driving is done for a reason, however.
See, you can’t just make cars able to drive themselves and then throw a bunch of people in them to drive autonomously along side everyone else. People have to get used to the technology and how it works first. So automakers must trickle the technology into their cars, slowly. First it was rearview cameras, then blind spot monitors, then adaptive cruise control and now really adaptive cruise control, or as Cadillac is going to call it, Super Cruise.
At the moment, no car company has the technology in a production car to allow fully autonomous driving under all conditions. More importantly, none of them will for quite some time. It isn’t a technology that the public is ready for just yet. What customers do want, is highly advance cruise control to take over during the boring parts of driving. “We’re taking out the part of people’s commute that they don’t like, even people who normally like to drive have told us they want the autonomous part for the more boring parts of their commute. So we’re giving it to them,” says Volvo spokesman, Jim Nichols.
Another issue with autonomous driving is cost. Technology like this is expensive and, at the moment, only available in higher end cars. And even still, it’s usually just an option, one that many people don’t get. According to Scott Keogh, head of Audi’s United States operations, 60 percent of Audi A6 buyers purchased Audi’s safety package, which includes the active cruise control and emergency braking, for $2,550. While 60 percent is a lot and the majority of buyers, there are still many who choose not to purchase that package, because $2,500 is quite a lot for just some fancy cruise control. So until the cost of the technology comes down, and can be made available to mass market vehicles, it’s likely that we won’t see full-on autonomous cars.
Then there’s the trust issue. At the moment, the majority of drivers have a deep distrust of autonomous driving. The cars that offer the closest thing to it (Mercedes, Tesla, Audi) require the drivers hand be on the steering or the autonomous features will turn off. Similar to a Dead Man’s Switch on a train, this insures the driver isn’t asleep or unconscious. But even still, with this Dead Man’s Switch, for lack of a better term, people have a fear of letting the car do the heavy lifting. Which is completely understandable, of course. Cadillac is supposed to be coming out with a revolutionary kind of autonomous technology in the CT6, but do you trust a car wholeheartedly to drive your family on it’s own at highway speeds that was built by the same company whose ignition switches killed 80 people?
Autonomous driving is a very nice idea, but potentially a scary one. So it must be released in small doses, so as to not shock the public. The vast majority of people are not ready for such a drastic change in motoring. Though, driving on the Garden State Parkway a lot makes me wish that the car could take over for some of these people, but I digress. Autonomous driving is coming and will be part of the future, but we’re gonna have to wade in the shallow end of it for a while before going into the deep end.