Why Autonomous Cars Haven’t Taken to the Road – Yet

29 Sep

With all the hype over self-drive cars over the years, one would think that they would already be swarming our roads, but they aren’t. Which brings us to the very important question of; why not? The reality of autonomous cars is that they are possible. In fact, Elon Musk himself is confident that he will have a fully autonomous car, with level 5 autonomy on the road before the year is up.

While Elon Musk is breaking new barriers and forging history, there are two ‘little’ problems he really needs to think about.

1. Will his autonomous cars be truly safe, and

2. Will his self-driving cars be legal on the road.

Why Self-Drive Vehicles Aren’t Yet the Norm

Besides these problems of legality and safety, which the industry of autonomous cars would pass off as “small problems” right now, there are several reasons why self-drive vehicles aren’t already, readily available. Let’s take a look at them below

The sensor functionality

It goes without saying that an autonomous car will be packed to the brim with sensors. These will use the likes of radar and lidar to detect objects around the vehicle as well as speed, distance, and so on. While the sensors in question have already proven themselves to work effectively, even in poor weather conditions, it must be noted that sometimes unexpected conditions can create a challenge for the vehicle’s sensors. Conditions such as poorly visible signage, sudden movement by a person or vehicle, or even driving through a highly congested African village with people, animals, carts, roadside stalls all moving about are all unusual conditions. Before these cars can take to our roads, the sensors will have to respond faultlessly in all scenarios.

The reliability and safety of machine learning

Machine learning isn’t a new concept to most of us. In fact, humans have been tinkering with it for some time now.

Machine learning means that computers or “machines” learn how to react and respond over time. These responses and reactions can improve steadily. In autonomous vehicles, machine learning will use algorithms to help the vehicle translate all the data it gathers from the world around it and put it into workable information. The result is that the car can tell a street light from a stop sign and it can then swerve when someone steps into the road. This is a great concept, but the fact that industry professionals cannot agree on just how safe or risky machine learning is at this stage means that more needs to be done in this field before we can trust machine learning to drive our cars for us.

The open road providing new experiences

Machine learning is one thing, but what is an autonomous vehicle’s capacity to remember previously safe behaviour? Will updated versions of the vehicle’s software and systems be safer than the last version or will the open road providing exposure to new things on a consistent basis cause possible “judgement errors” from the car? That’s still something autonomous car professionals are looking into.

  • Regulations

No country in the world currently has regulations and road laws for self-driving vehicles. All regulations assume there is a human in full control of the vehicle while it navigates the roads. With no regulations in place, the industry won’t be able to legally put self-driving cars on the road. It could be quite sometime before any country is willing to be the first to introduce laws and regulations allowing self-drive vehicles.

  • The public acceptance aspect

Those who ‘own’ autonomous cars have clearly bought into the concept and safety, but what about the other drivers on the roads? Not everyone is thrilled by the concept of a self-driving car, and it could be some time before the public is fully on board which means that it will be even longer before an autonomous vehicle can legally take to our roads.

Last Word on Autonomous Cars

No one is doubting that Elon Musk’s autonomous cars will make their official debut in the years to come. Exactly how they will impact our lives and how they make use of our roads, however, will be interesting to watch!

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