Within recent years, there has been a growing sense of excitement over the possibilities autonomous vehicles offer in terms of highway safety. Imagine a world where you wouldn’t need to fear drunk or distracted drivers because vehicles don’t get drunk and they certainly aren’t distracted by an incoming text message.
The potential for safer roadways was thrilling until a few challenges began slowing progress. It was initially forecast that by 2020 there would be the first round of self-driving vehicles on the road, but now it looks as though it will be delayed by at least several more years. Here are 5 of the challenges which must be addressed before autonomous cars will be widely available to the general public.
1. AI and Predictive Avoidance
One of the major issues which must be addressed falls within the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and predictive avoidance to such things as obstacles in the road or pedestrian behavior. While a vehicle can be programmed to detect and identify an obstacle in its path, it can’t always be programmed to predict how that object will behave.
You can see this for yourself any day of the week. Drive down any street and you can see a person seemingly standing on the side of the road. They appear to have no intention of moving but just as you are almost up to them, they step into your path forcing you to slam on the brakes. What about a cat or dog in the road? An autonomous vehicle would be able to identify it as an animal and could adjust its direction to go around the animal. Unfortunately, that animal might scamper in the same direction.
Better methods of predictive avoidance are needed, and this is why electrical and computer engineers are seeking ways to ‘teach’ cars how best to predict given various outcomes. In fact, today’s universities are placing an enormous amount of focus on addressing these concerns. It’s actually an exciting field of study and the solution to a growing need within our busy roadways. Interested graduate students in engineering are being encouraged to get an MSECE degree from Kettering University online. The solution is out there. Will you be the one to find the answer? How exciting that would be!
2. Production Costs
Then there is the fact that the cost of manufacturing autonomous vehicles is far greater than originally anticipated. Not only would manufacturers need to totally reorganize their production lines, but the cost of research and development is skyrocketing far beyond what they had anticipated. One of the reasons is addressing the challenge mentioned above.
So much research into predictive avoidance has already been conducted, and more is yet to be done. Universities and similar institutions might end up finding the answers auto manufacturers are still seeking, but at the moment, those solutions remain elusive.
3. Cost of Vehicles
The cost of vehicles to consumers is another challenge which must be met if autonomous vehicles are ever to make their way onto our roads. Obviously, high costs to manufacturers would be reflected in the price passed on to consumers, and that cost would be way more than the average car buyer could afford at this point in time.
In fact, the cost of research and development would raise the ultimate price so high you could probably buy a Lamborghini for a lot less money! Even so, once these issues are addressed, the price will come down accordingly.
4. Potential Vulnerabilities
Then there is the risk of a computerized system being hacked. Although the general public is advised that computer vulnerabilities are probably nonexistent, both manufacturers and consumers know this isn’t exactly true at this point in time. Even NASA was hacked during the 2018 holiday season, and if a government entity that secure was vulnerable to attack, how secure would a computerized autonomous vehicle be?
There are obviously ways to keep a vehicle’s computer safe from malicious attacks, but there are still vulnerabilities yet to be found so they can’t be addressed at this time. That’s another area of focus those graduate students mentioned above might want to use as their research project at the culmination of their studies.
5. Fear of the Unknown
Finally, there is always going to be a general fear of the unknown. When the Wright brothers took their first flight, proving that heavy machines could fly through the air, people were terrified to step foot in a plane. To this day, many people are still afraid of flying even though it has been proven time and again that flying is the safest mode of transportation on earth! The technology is much more advanced than on any other type of vessel and there is the presence of air traffic control on the ground. There are built in back up systems and manual overrides and other types of safety features which cars, buses, trains and ships simply don’t have!
The same holds true for autonomous cars. The general public has a healthy dose of fear because of some of the challenges mentioned above. How do they know the computer won’t be hacked by someone who despises them and how do they know the computer won’t freeze while they are going 70mph on the highway? Unable to stop or put the car into manual mode, they’d surely crash, wouldn’t they?
Delays Are Inevitable with New Technology
Although it was forecast that autonomous cars would be widely available by 2020, there is nothing to be concerned about because of unavoidable delays. All technology worth investing in experiences similar delays. The key is to get it right before releasing that technology to consumers, and that is as it should be.
Whether you are a consumer excited about the prospect of being one of the first to actually own a self-driving car, or an engineering student anxious to find solutions to the solutions the industry now faces, just remember it’s only a slight blip in time. Delays are inevitable in technology, but once they are addressed, it will be the ushering in of a new age of safe roadways and maybe even cheaper insurance. Wouldn’t that be nice!