Cars represent freedom and status to Americans in real-life and our imaginations. Thelma and Louise traversed the United States with the top down and enjoyed (endured) life-changing experiences. Andy Dufresne escaped Shawshank prison and drove his convertible to freedom.
Therein lies one of the main problems in convincing Americans to adopt autonomous vehicles. A 2013 blue paper by Morgan Stanley predicted that every car on the road would be Level 5 [fully] autonomous by 2025. Several barriers will prevent that from coming to fruition. But even if the law was on the side of fully autonomous vehicles, the American people are not. A February AAA survey found that 86% of American drivers are afraid to ride in autonomous vehicles or are unsure about them.
Autonomous features are standard in 96% of 2020 model vehicles. These advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) include parking assist, blind spot warnings, automatic braking, etc. Fully autonomous vehicles, however, seem to take two steps forward before disturbing incidents set them back again. A self-driving Uber operator faced negligent homicide charges last year in Arizona. The driver was watching television when the self-driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian. A Tesla Model S owner died in 2016 after a gruesome accident caused by the vehicle failing to recognize a semi tractor trailer.
Well-framed marketing campaigns and demonstrations will likely ease safety concerns. But education and legislation are ultimately the deciding factors for mass autonomous vehicle adoption.
How do self-driving cars work?
You may remember the “face” on Google’s prototype self-driving car. Driver controls (steering wheel, brakes, etc.) were completely absent. Thus consumer education is key to overcome the anxiety of entering a car without traditional control mechanisms.
LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors are mounted to the top of the vehicle. Google used the Velodyne HDL-64E. It provides detailed maps of the roads and surrounding environment, right down to potholes and road cones. Google Street View Cars have driven (and continue to drive) virtually every road in the U.S. and several European countries to create these detailed maps. The maps’ precision forced Google to settle a lawsuit surrounding privacy issues.
Four radar sensors are attached to the front and rear bumpers to detect the speed of cars in front of and behind the vehicle. Video cameras are mounted where the rear-view mirror would otherwise be located. It detects the presence of pedestrians, deer running across the street, and other potential obstacles. GPS supplements all the foregoing technology for further accuracy and safety. A central computer located near the rear axle of the car processes all this information to control steering, acceleration, and braking.
Google spun off its autonomous vehicle division in December of 2016, and renamed it Waymo. The company operates a self-driving taxi service in the greater Phoenix area today. The vehicles required backup drivers until last year. Now the Waymo ride-hailing service is fully autonomous. It is the only company in the United States operating fully autonomous taxis.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines six levels of automation in cars. Level Zero means no automation. Level Five is full automation with no driver controls. The main problem with autonomous vehicles is the patchwork laws related to them.
At least 37 states and the District of Columbia allow self-driving cars on the road, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seven of those states require human operators in self-driving vehicles. This lack of conformity hinders nationwide launches of autonomous technology. The American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate in 2017. It would be a major step towards national conformity with self-driving car laws. But there has been little to no movement on the bill since its introduction.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has guidelines for states to utilize in enacting autonomous vehicle laws. But until there is national agreement, self-driving cars will be novelty-type items with no chance of mass deployment.
Blitzify autonomous vehicle service providers
Specialized technicians work on autonomous cars. They have greater diagnostic capabilities and knowledge of machine learning and AI. Arizona is the national leader in autonomous vehicle deployment. California is a close second. Service providers in those states have golden opportunities.
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