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Are We Getting Close to Fully Autonomous Vehicles?

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Are We Getting Close to Fully Autonomous Vehicles?

As research and development continues in the realm of driverless cars, let's take a look at where we are and what challenges remain.

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We’ve been talking about autonomous vehicles for decades. If you asked someone in the late 20th century if there would be driverless vehicles in 2018, they would have certainly said yes. But here we are, nearly halfway through 2018, and autonomous vehicles still aren’t on public roads. Are we getting close?

The Latest Trends to Keep An Eye On

In the late 1950s, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was certain driverless vehicles were right around the corner. In the January 1958 issue of Electronic Age, RCA’s quarterly magazine, the highway of the future was described in certain detail.

“You reach over to your dashboard and push the button marked ‘Electronic Drive.’ Selecting your lane, you settle back to enjoy the ride as your car adjusts itself to the prescribed speed,” RCA described. “You may prefer to read or carry on a conversation with your passengers — or even to catch up on your office work. It makes no difference for the next several hundred miles as far as the driving is concerned.”

The RCA vision was that all highway driving would be autonomous by the 1970s. Then came the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and beyond. Here we stand and there are still no consumer-grade autonomous vehicles.

So, when you hear auto manufacturing and technology companies boast that we’re on the precipice of something new, it’s easy to roll your eyes and dismiss it. But unlike 1958, when the technology was extremely limited and confined, today’s autonomous technology has the luxury of the internet, big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

Here are a few of the latest, greatest trends and developments.

1. Safety Sense Technology

Many in the public have been led to believe that the move from standard vehicles to driverless cars will be stark, but the reality is that we’re already transitioning. Many of today’s newer models of cars have autonomous features already built into them.

Most commonly, these features have to do with safety. Toyota is a great example. Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) now comes standard on many models and helps drivers by automating pre-collision warning and braking, providing lane departure alerts, and using automatic high beams in poor visibility. Other major car brands have similar technology.

2. Real-Time Route Optimization

Navigation has become so much more efficient over the past 20 years. We’ve gone from paper maps to online services like MapQuest to innovative GPS systems built into the cars themselves. With autonomous driving, the next big thing is real-time route optimization.

“Autonomous vehicles on a common stretch of the road are connected together with Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) mechanisms that enable driverless vehicles to gain real-time information on the condition of the roads as well as exchange protection and mobility information with the surrounding infrastructure and redirect the routes accordingly,” Infiniti Research explains. “Additionally, employing of V2V and V2I to find out optimal routes can aid in reducing the number of miles driven, save time and rein in the fuel consumption.”

3. Greater Efficiency

One of the biggest driving factors behind the growth of autonomous vehicles is that they’re far more efficient than traditional vehicles – something that’s really important to car manufacturers and the buying public.

Autonomous vehicles tend to be lighter, remain rather impervious to accidents, and have greater fuel efficiency. This lowers costs for manufacturers, customers, and insurance companies, lessens the impact on roads and highways, and creates a safer, more sustainable environment. Not bad!

Challenges and Hurdles Remain

Now, just because we have some big trends moving in the right direction doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing from here on out. We’re still a few years away from mass adoption, namely because of challenges like these:

  • Public perception. How will people respond to not being in control of their vehicles? It sounds pretty nice in theory, but there will certainly be some hesitancy. It’s assumed that driverless cars will prohibit speeding. While safe, this could be frustrating for some.
  • Government regulation. There will have to be specific government regulations regarding autonomous vehicles, new roadway rules, and other related factors. This could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure.
  • Insurance. What happens to the insurance industry? How is liability determined? What do rates do? Do rates simply apply to cars and not people? Questions like these will have to be answered before autonomous vehicles hit the market in full force.

There will be autonomous vehicles in the future – this much we know. The question is how quickly will we get there – and how will these challenges be overcome?

Realistically, we can expect to see some driverless vehicles on American roadways within the next couple of years. From that point, it could take nearly a decade before we see mass adoption. Patience will be necessary from all parties involved.

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