The concept of self-driving cars is not novel and have been in the works for decades. Predictions by numerous global companies including Tesla, Nissan, Honda, Toyota, Daimler, and BMW, of introducing autonomous vehicle by 2020 have been bagged. Time to face reality – It is the year 2020 but the hyped self-driving cars are nowhere to be seen. Is the future anywhere near for these autonomous cars?
Just a few years ago, industry car markers were optimistic on launching autonomous cars. However, with test drives accidents and delayed introduction, it is increasingly evident that developing self-driving cars are a challenge, both monetary and technological. Billions of dollars have been pumped into technology to create self-driving cars but no companies are currently able to offer one that is without human supervision.
To put things into perspective, self-driving cars are defined against SAE International’s self-driving levels, referring to the level of automation, ranging from 0 for no automation to 5 for full automation. The current autonomous vehicles created have attained a level 4 high automation, but can only drive along predetermined routes under specified conditions such as during the daytime with good weather.
Level 5 self-driving cars have yet to exist because to do so, engineers have to develop the artificial intelligence (AI) that outperforms humans and be able to navigate and react in the real-world roads. This seemingly boils down to the need for loads of training data for the machine to learn what is considered safe and good driving behaviour. However, these data are difficult and expensive to obtain.
Autonomous cars have been controversial since its inception but there is no doubt on the benefits it entails – for instance, the provision of mobility for those who are unable to drive and the acclaimed safer driving on the roads as compared to humans. The state of things is nonetheless complex, even if self-driving vehicles were safer than human drivers, will we be able to accept machines killing humans, given the possibility of errors?
2020 has been a tumultuous year that was supposed to see the launch of self-driving cars. Unfortunately, it failed to happen. With the global pandemic that left a dent in the economy, many companies in the midst of conducting test drives had to be suspended. Regardless, development will still continue and car makers are hopeful to make progressive results – Evinced in Waymo’s and Ford’s revealed datasets, obtained from its autonomous vehicle test drives, where they challenge developers to create faster and more intelligent algorithms.
Car makers are no longer in a rush to be the first to release autonomous vehicles as more work is required to get the job done. They continue to invest large amounts of money despite the drawbacks as an autonomous car would indefinitely change lives (and not to mention, bring in revenue). Importantly, governments also have a say in deciding if self-driving vehicles will be allowed on the roads. We do not know when or if a true self-driving car would ever be introduced, nor how long it would take for it to be a dream come true.