Decades ago humans dreamed of a future with flying cars and transformative technologies. When you heard the year 2020, you imagined a completely futuristic environment – one similar to an episode of the “UPLOAD” show. Although artificial intelligence continues to evolve in our world today, those flying cars have yet to arrive. In the meantime, the emergence of autonomous vehicles has been the latest talk in the automotive industry – with many auto manufacturers now striving for driverless operations.
What is expected to be a solution to human error has left some skeptic. Industry leaders announced they’d be producing self-driving cars by 2020, yet those prototypes still remain in trial. With the introduction of automatic braking and Tesla’s autopilot feature, the latest releases are just breaking the ground on what’s to come. Will these self-driving cars be the solution to safer roads? Recent reports by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show that autonomous vehicles are less effective in preventing accidents than previously led to believe.
The following will detail the automation process including how the IIHS report shows the current safety setbacks of autonomous vehicles.
What is automation?
Automation requires the use of technology and machinery to run an operational function with little to no human intervention. In relation to cars, automation has been used for decades. Automation was first introduced in assembly lines, which transformed the production of vehicles worldwide. This technology allowed manufacturers to build vehicles at a faster rate without considerable manpower. It gives a number of benefits as well – including low operating costs and consistent product quality.
By incorporating automation in the driving experience, manufacturers aim to solve a variety of crash related problems. Through the use of sensors, artificial intelligence, and advanced cameras, vehicles will function without the exertion of a human operator. Essentially, you could treat your vehicle as a secondary office or the perfect place to take a nap in between meetings. Although we are not there yet, Tesla’s advancements in automation have given us a pragmatic glimpse into autonomous vehicles. The question that lies ahead: are these vehicles safe enough?
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety sought to understand how effective self-driving vehicles could be in terms of avoiding accidents. From a conventional perspective, autonomous vehicles have the potential to eliminate collisions and traffic on the road – two things that human operations heavily contribute to. After analyzing 5,000 reported accidents from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, IIHS concluded that only one-third of crashes could be avoided from the advanced perception of self-driving cars.
— IIHS (@IIHS_autosafety) June 5, 2020
This means, there are still two-thirds of recurring accidents that autonomous vehicles are not fully equipped to solve – including predicting and performance errors. In March of 2018, an Uber vehicle using automated operations failed to recognize a jaywalking pedestrian – leading to the first death by a self-driving car. The vehicles’ inability to quickly detect what a pedestrian might do further shows that autonomous vehicles have a long road ahead in safety development. They must know that a pedestrian won’t always follow the law and walk at a crosswalk.
Road to improvement
The IIHS report envisioned a world with only autonomous vehicles to see if human error was the cause of most accidents. As reported, other factors are involved. It is evident that engineers will need to implement new strategies towards safety. Most importantly, figuring out how to prioritize safety over rider preference. Even with terrific advancements in automation and artificial intelligence, the limitations of self-driving cars still exist.
Besides the basic mechanical failure, autonomous vehicles must account for unpredictable motorists and pedestrians. For example, a driverless car must know to immediately slow down in an area with heavy foot traffic. This level of prediction will not only increase the performance of the vehicle, it will improve the safety of riders and pedestrians. In a sense, autonomous vehicles must embody the human mind while actively obeying traffic laws.
Despite the current setbacks, the future of autonomous vehicles is bright. Industry leaders will continue to invest time and money in driverless cars with the hope that one day, whenever that may be, we will live in a world of self-driving vehicles. With continual innovation, these vehicles could exceed safety standards and expectations in the future. However, the IIHS report confirms there is still much ingenuity that needs to be done before any launch dates.
The truth is, drivers still find a sense of excitement when picking out their next vehicle. Will all car enthusiasts welcome a new reality of autonomous vehicles? Or will they miss the thrill of driving behind the wheel? In the next decade or so, we will witness even greater transformations. As long as safety concerns are addressed, autonomous vehicle production will soon invade the market and reduce crashes. But whether consumers will embrace this new way of life is still unknown.