Call me old fashioned, but I have never been able to ‘buy’ the idea of self-driving vehicles. Just the idea of relying on a piece of software to drive me around, scares the heck out of me. Whenever I think about self driving cars, or trucks, my first thought is, “maybe, I just need to learn more about the technology and this will give me a peace of mind.” So, I did. I researched more about self driving vehicles.
The pros and cons of self driving cars and trucks
Certainly, there are a number of issues that the self-driving cars could solve, but as with any new technology, until it is mastered (if it ever is); it creates new issues for the society to deal with. Let’s delve into the advatnages and disadvantages and maybe then we can draw a conclusion.
Decrease the number of traffic jams
We, the people, do not like traffic jams. So, for self-driving vehicles to decrease that on its own is a huge advantage. It would take down one of the biggest stress contributors on earth. The way the self-driving technology could allow you to avoid congestion on the road is by calculating less populated and congested roads around you, and have you to take one of them so that you won’t have to spend your afternoon in a traffic jam. Real-time traffic data will constantly be calculating less busy routes that let you save time. It can also cut back human errors and incompetence that often create traffic jams. Moreove, an autonomous vehicle will have the ability to calculate the time of approaching traffic light, which would allow it to not completely stop, but rather slow down. This, alongside all other features will make traffic run smoother.
Just think about this – on average America spends 4.2 billion hours in traffic jams yearly, according to Sebastian Thrun – robotics scientist and Google X founder. In comparison, it took 20 million hours to build the Panama Canal. Don’t you think that’s a lot of wasted time?
Smart software, ease of transportation
The fact that your ride is taken care of will give you more time to finish something or simply enjoy your coffee, a book or even a nap in the car on your way to work. The software takes care of everything for you – GPS technology is not always accurate, which is why in addition there are sensors on the car that pick up on the specifications of the environment. The software can pick on stop signs, cyclists, pedestrians or anything out of the ordinary. The information collected by the sensors is then processed, transmitted and applied. For instance, it detects the cyclists’ hand signal and reacts to it accordingly. It can also detect large vehicles so that it gives more space between the car and the truck while passing. Furthermore, the sensors can detect detours and road fixing procedures, and automatically adjust the speed and change the direction. When it comes to four way stops, you don’t have to see the other cars, the sensors detect them for you and stop.
Decrease the number of accidents
Virtually it should decrease the number of accidents, simply by taking the human error factor out of the equation. By sensing everything around you, following the speed limits, adjusting the speed at all times, not texting while driving, “paying attention to the road”, and taking over the steering, the car can save a lot of trouble to all of us. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, in 2012 – 33, 561 people were killed in traffic accidents, almost all of them were due to a human error.
Cuts down on time looking for parking
Imagine this – you get to a party and instead of spending 20 min looking for a parking spot, your car drops you off right in front of the door and heads to a parking spot or a garage where it already knows a spot is waiting, eliminating the need to waste gas and time looking for one. According to the consulting firm Ronald Berger, an estimated 30% of congestion in urban areas is caused by people driving around searching for parking, this will not only eliminate your hustle, but also the traffic that it creates.
Less cars, less air pollution
The fuel efficiency comes from better calculations – the software in a self-driving car calculates the time you have to reach another car, light or intersection and slows down accordingly, which allows you to avoid the need of stopping and starting from zero again. This is not only fuel efficiency, but it prolongs the life of your brakes and is gentler to the engine, and the car in general. More than anything elso though it affects our climate and the air we breathe. Less driving means less pollution because it lowers the impact a single car has on the environment. And since we mention a single car, we ought to think about the number of cars we own. We need to ask ourselves “How many cars do we need?” Less cars means less pollution. Smart cars also mean less pollution. So, one smart car would be ideal for one person. Less is more!
Decreasing costs for shipping companies
The trucks can operate in off-peak and overnight hours and this would make everything easier. It will lead to less traffic and congestion on the roadways throughout the day, faster shipping times, less fuel costs, less labor costs, hence lower shipping rates and increased customer satisfaction. For Deutsche Post AG and more precisely for its subsidiary – DHL, this is not simply an idea any longer, it is a fact. The trucking industry is the best industry for testing and slowly implementing self-driving vehicles, because it has the lowest risk level for people and accidents. In attempt to satisfy their customers even more, UPS and DHL are considering the ability to deliver orders directly to the trunk of customers’ parked cars, which will eliminate multiple delivery attempts when customers are not home. Volvo and DHL have already teamed up, and the option has already been active for Volvo car owners. It is technology that can completely restructure logistics, but it can also negatively impact truck drivers.
Personal satisfaction of driving
Driving is all about the idea of you being the one in charge of your vehicle, speeding up or slowing down – being the driver. Simply driving is what a car was all about and this self-driving technology will turn us all into passengers. Maybe it is not as scary as it sounds, but for me it sounds a little boring. And I am sure it will be boring for many out there – many sports car enthusiasts, who know why they buy a fast car. Or for those collectors who know why crusing down by the ocean is essential for happiness. Driving is a happiness factor for all who considers themselves a car guy or car gal for that matter.
The free will …
And then we need to talkabout the free will of the people. Classic cars. What happens with them? In a world where the roads are built to recharge autonomous vehicles and everything is calculated down to a second, will you be able to drive your classic car and enjoy it, without creating a mess? I would say no, as soon as a human factor is introduced the technology process falls short, because regardless of how good the calculations are, they don’t include the free will. Simpler times will not be possible.
How do you implement software driven car on the road, when there are human operated cars, as well? As Don Norman, director of the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, puts it – “autonomous drive vehicles are a wonderful idea, but the transition from driver-operated to driverless is likely to be filled with accidents.” For instance, while approaching a traffic light, a self-driving car calculates that if it speeds up a little bit, it will be able to pass through the light, but the driver in the car in front decides to stop because he thinks he won’t make it on time. What do you think the result will be?
Accidents with driverless vehicles
Because an accident is something unexpected, it will take longer for the self-driving car to adjust itself to the new conditions and react accordingly. Moreover, to react to the human in the other vehicle excersising their free will and judjment. It will be a tough transition.
Rules and regulations
New rules and regulations need to be created and implemented, in order for a massive project like this to be rolled out (Nevada is already on it). Not to mention the infrastructure needed – new roadways with charging capabilities for the software of the self-driving cars. All in all, a huge expense for any government in any country around the world.
Software updates and hacking treats
A glitch in the software or anything else that causes the software not to operate the way it is supposed to, such as hacking, could cause a deadly accident. I don’t know about you, but I am having troubles trusting a real driver, what’s left for a machine? Additionally, imagine someone hacking into your vehicle’s software? With the most recent advances in technology we have to realize the dangers as well.
Your location is visible, no matter what. They know where you are, no matter what. All the time. Nowadays, privacy is a growing concern with all of our devices being constantly connected the the internet and add an autonomous car to the equation, your location is not a question anymore, it’s simply known all of the time.
The shipping industry
We already discussed all of the positives that certainly affect businesses and customers, how about the drivers? What do you think will happen when an industry that is heavily dependent on its drivers, decides that they don’t need them anymore? A rise in unemployment, and in fact a big one. The end result for the economy might be positive in terms of GDP, however in terms of unemployment it is an unpleasant one. The logistics industry will have to finds a way to not lay off drivers, but instead take a cooperative approach. Maybe it should choose a solution with advanced technological changes that give autonomous functionalities to the truck instead of going fully autonomous.
Whether or not a driver-less car or a truck is a good thing, it is not for us to decide. However, the positive impact of this technology is undeniable, yet, issues are on the horizon as well. Will it solve all of our mobility problems or will it create new ones? This is the question for all of us to consider.