Autonomous (self driving) Cars are coming. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Before we dive into some of the specifics surrounding Autonomous Cars, we need to understand what they are. There are five levels of automation:
- Level 1: Human driver with hands on driving, but automated assistance in either steering (lane assistance) OR acceleration/deceleration (adaptive cruise control).
- Level 2: The same as level one, except it’s BOTH steering assistance and acceleration/deceleration control.
- Level 3: This level is right in the middle. The AI has control of vehicle systems, but the system is built with the expectation that the driver will need to intervene (inclement weather, etc.).
- Level 4: Very high level of AI control. In this case, the driver is never expected to intervene, however it does still have the systems in place for the driver to take over if they wish.
- Level 5: Complete AI control of vehicle systems. This is the one that people tend to think of when they here “Self Driving Vehicle.” No steering wheel, no pedals, front seats facing back seats, etc.
As you can see from here, there are already thousands of cars at level one. A few questions then present themselves: What are the potential benefits? What are the drawbacks? What will it take to integrate them into American roads? When can we expect to see them? The U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao gave a very powerful opening note to the integration of Autonomous Vehicles and Drones session this afternoon.
Naturally, a spokeswoman from Intel was quick to point out the positives. In 2016 there were 37,461 automotive deaths in the US during 2016, 94% of which were caused by human error. Eliminating the humans from the equation would drastically reduce the amount of motor vehicle deaths. It would also give greater mobility and improvement in quality of life to people with disabilities and the elderly. They would be able to gain much of their mobility/independence back. Another of the advantages would come in the form of delivery. Online shopping at retailers such as Amazon has exploded over the last few years. The growing demand for these deliveries won’t remain feasible forever. Autonomous vehicles combined with advanced robotics could pick up the delivery slack with this growing demand.
You can see there are many positives. However, these positives come with their own complications. As mentioned before, 94% of accidents are caused by humans. Artificial Intelligence are algorithms developed by humans. It’s no simple task to create these algorithms in a way that makes them completely safe. Also, because these algorithms are software, they’re prone to hacking. Envisioning a city’s entire vehicle
These are things that can be worked out, protections put in place, etc. but they’re hurdles in moving forward. This brings us to the question of how they’re going to be integrated onto American roads. Before any integration can happen, we need regulations in place. Regulations at the state and federal level. Right now there isn’t anything at the federal level, but they’re working on it. What that means is local and state governments are left to their own devices at the moment. It’s going to take quite a bit of effort to create homogenous regulation so that the industries producing these vehicles have a very clear ruleset to follow. Much of the conflict in creating this legislation is in how to properly integrate autonomous vehicles onto our roads. It’s not difficult to imagine cities filled with only self driving cars. We’ve seen it in science fiction for years. All of the cars sending signals and information to each other and acting off of the same algorithms/software. The trouble is that it’s not an A to B immediate switch. What happens when there are 10% self driven cars, while 90% are still driven by humans? This is the type of question we don’t currently have answers to, and why we don’t see a true level 5 autonomous vehicle on the road today.
So when will see one? Right now at CES in Las Vegas, Aptiv and Lyft’s self driving car is giving people rides up and down the strip. This vehicle would be considered level 3. Leaders in AI estimate that by 2020/2021, level 5 self driving vehicles will be available in certain geofenced locations.