By Godstime Aisosa Osague
December 7, 2020
Before anything else, let’s take a ride down the history lane.
The history of automobile invention dates way back before the 15th Century when Leonardo da Vinci engaged himself with making varieties of sketch designs of vehicle models. However, as research has it, there is no definite answer as to whom invented the first car, as evidences proved the existence of steam, electric, and gasoline cars centuries ago. Nonetheless, it is important to note that studies claim the Greeks invented gears, and the Romans who only before hand realized a car was just as good as the roads it was driven on, brought about the idea of good roads, and together, these developments led to the build up of the various levels of success attained with automobiles. However, most historical accounts unanimously honoured the German mechanical engineer and inventor, Karl Friedrich Benz as the first to practically build the world’s first automobile powered by an internal-combustion engine, a feat that happened between 1886 and 1887. Notwithstanding, several other inventors played significant roles in the developmental process of automobiles, even before Karl Benz’s ground-breaking success.
Now, that we have had a historical exposition on the development of automobiles, let’s take a look into their future.
Over decades, there have been amazing inventions in the automobile industry that have astonished the world, and from the look of things, innovations in the industry are not stopping anytime soon. However, there is this development in the industry that has got everyone thinking for quite some years now, and that is the concept of self-driving cars.
Self-driving cars, or autonomous or driverless cars as some have named them are cars that a human is not required to take control of its wheels, and quite a good number of companies like, Waymo, Uber, Nissan, Tesla, Volkswagen, etc., have long taken the invention of autonomous vehicles into consideration, and today, while some companies have successfully carried out a test run of these machines, some others have them in full operation, however, they are used currently for carrying out few tasks that require hitting the road, like drop shipping within a defined perimeter. Although autonomous cars have statistically been reported to be much safer than traditional vehicles, the question is, “how well have we taken hold of this future?” So, let’s now take a look at the components of self-driving cars, how they navigate our cities, and the claimed advantages they have over their long existing traditional cousins.
FEATURES OF SELF DRIVING CARS
Self-driving cars make use of sensors and software to control, navigate and fully operate themselves. Through the use of sensors like “radar”, these cars are able to create and maintain a clear map of roads, streets, and even the tiniest components in their environment like bumps, turns, buildings, poles, and humans of course, for safety and optimum functionality. According to research, there would be over 500 autonomous cars available globally by 2022. And though the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) with regards to autonomous cars tends to be a lot more difficult than people expect, some cars have already been developed with some autonomous functions like self parking, and automatic collision avoidance — features which contribute greatly to the reduction of road accidents, however, don’t qualify such cars as fully autonomous, not until they can relate properly with their environment in the context of understanding sudden environmental circumstances and changes like an emergency, poor or clement weather, and even a spontaneous breakdown of any part of the vehicle.
Discussing features further, some companies like Tesla, Waymo, Uber, Volkswagen, Nissan, among others, have made appreciable strides towards the realization of autonomy in cars. For instance, Tesla has built cars that utilize neural networks, cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors to read their environment. Waymo has approached autonomy from a more analytical approach by employing high resolution cameras and “Lidar”, a major component known to be the laser scanner which the self-driving car uses to transmit pulses to things and objects around it, while taking and keeping record of the time and distance the pulses have to travel, and how quickly they come back. This is a communication method closely related to echolocation. Uber’s autonomous prototypes use 64 laser beams along with other censors to construct a map of their environment. Volkswagen revealed plans to develop autonomous vehicles (AV) by 2023 with a target of one million electric cars to be produced by the end of 2023. And Nissan also has revealed an agenda to produce eight new electric cars by 2022.
Among other interesting features, autonomous cars which also are called electric cars by some have been said to integrate better with electric engines which would make them play significant roles in the attainment of global climate change goals, as well as make their drivers, who then become like passengers, have lesser time committed to driving, while focusing on other things.
The astounding features nonetheless, recorded challenges with self-driving cars like crashes caused by drivers putting so much faith in the autonomy of the car, have given rise to notions which negate the possibility of full autonomy in cars, especially with regards to them operating at a human’s level of intelligence, judgement, and spontaneous response to a sudden contingencies. In that light, let’s take a look at various skepticisms about full autonomy in cars.
Dr. Gill Pratt, Chief Executive Officer of Toyota Research Institute (TRI) has expressed his opinion that, none in the IT or automobile industries is close to solving all of the problems associated with autonomous cars, hence, Toyota has taken a two-side path to it. While it’s fully and actively involved working on the full autonomy of electric vehicles, it’s also working towards the development of more sophisticated driver assistance products. Similarly, consumers have raised questions about who takes the blame and suffers the consequences, as well as shoulders the responsibilities when cars on autopilot mode make costly mistakes. The driver or the company? Some have also expressed concerns about who becomes responsible when a child darts into the middle of the road and the car makes a mistake, either by taking a turn, only to hit someone else, or ramp into a road pavement? However, reports have shown that in crash cases where electric cars drivers reported their cars to be on autopilot before the crash, the drivers were held liable in court, and that has led people to say that the idea of full autonomy in cars is useless, if one still has to pay attention to how well the car is doing what it’s meant to do. Well, these are some of the biggest challenges faced with the use of self-driving cars, even though they’ve recorded an appreciable level of success. By the way, a survey in the University of Michigan revealed that 96.2% of people would still love to have a steering wheel, a brake pedal, and an accelerator, as people still very much enjoy driving as an activity.
Against all odds, achieving fully autonomous cars doesn’t seem like an idea that will be jettisoned, as such cars appear to be integral parts of the technology of the future. With facts on ground, it is highly anticipated by some companies that electric cars would eventually override the need for hybrids, as conscious steps are being taken to build better technologies to meet that demand, however, full autonomy in cars still remains a debate until an undisputable breakthrough is recorded. And while chances of fully autonomous vehicles succeeding remains a hope for potential owners, on the other side of the coin, it means everyday struggle and vast input of hard work for inventors until the dream becomes a reality.