What we consider to be autonomous car technology is a complex combination of algorithms, sensors, actuators, automotive parts and robust processors that run all the software. Each of these components play a critical role in enabling autonomous cars to accurately map their surroundings and monitor the location of nearby vehicles, traffic lights, pedestrians, road edges and lane markings. Each of these subsystems will need to undergo significant improvements to achieve a fully functioning and safe autonomous vehicle. While we haven’t achieved enough progress in all these areas, recent trends show that we are not very far from perfecting these components. Once we do achieve these milestones, however, we won’t just change the way cars are operated, but will also see consequences extending far beyond the realm of autonomous car technology.
5 Ways Autonomous Cars Will Reshape Our World
With the evolution of autonomous car technology, the world will see a drastic change in many different aspects.
1. Fewer Road Accidents
Approximately 1.3 million people die annually due to road traffic crashes. Most of these crashes are due to errors in human judgment and everyday, around 32 people die in The United States due to drunk-driving crashes, which means one person almost every 45 minutes. With the help of autonomous cars, there will be a significant reduction in the number of crashes as there will be no human action involved. Driverless or autonomous vehicles have sensors and cameras attached to their bodies, which help them to sense what is coming ahead, bad weather conditions and also how likely other cars are to go in a specific direction. Waymo has utilized this technology in its fifth-generation Waymo Driver, which consists of complementary sensors, which include LiDAR, 360-degree view cameras and radars. These technologies help the vehicle’s movement to adapt based on the weather conditions, time of the day and other similar factors. Such features are estimated to lead to a 94% reduction in road fatalities if autonomous cars become the primary mode of transport.
2. Reduced Car Ownership
On average, owning a car costs $9,666 a year. Most of these cars remain unused or parked for around 95% of the year. This makes purchasing a car costly as it requires a lot of maintenance. Most driverless cars will likely run as shared vehicles, owned primarily by aggregators. Due to this, there will be a reduction in the number of car owners and will help to reduce traffic issues and increase parking spaces. It will also enable users to save money on owning a car. Families that own multiple cars are likely to own just one. They will be able to use the same autonomous car for different purposes. For example, in a single household, the same driverless car can drop the parents off at work and then drive back home to pick up the kids for school.
3. Automated Logistics Operations
Driverless cars will also be designed to deliver food and packages in the coming future. Autonomous vehicles will enable businesses to cater to customer demand quickly and smoothly. Autonomous cars and semi-trucks can be equipped with various special sensors and cameras to recognize objects and addresses. In addition to operational efficiencies, autonomous vehicles will also improve fuel efficiency and fleet utilization. By 2050 there is expected to be a 40% reduction in urban vehicle costs.
4. Improved Livability
The global carbon dioxide level measured in 2022 stood at 421 parts per million, an increase of 50% more than the pre-industrial levels. In the United States, passenger vehicles account for roughly 16.4% of GHG emissions. With the introduction of driverless cars, people can breathe fresher air, reducing their carbon footprint effectively. They will also have more space to walk and reach their destination faster. Autonomous car technology will provide a way to reduce parking spaces and traffic congestion. Walkability and livability will be greatly enhanced. It will also reduce noise pollution, making life easier for both humans and animals. GHG reduction benefits of driverless vehicles in the US would cause 87–94% lesser emission per vehicle-mile trip by 2030.
5. Commotion-Free Traffic and Parking Tickets
On average, Americans spend 17 hours per year searching for parking, costing $345 in wasted fuel, emissions and time. More than $20 billion is spent by Americans on overpaid parking costs. In addition to this, traffic ticket penalties can range from $280 – $ 490, depending on how fast the car is going. Additional fees and penalties may also be applied depending on the location. Driverless or autonomous cars are designed to avoid traffic tickets altogether as they are equipped with sensors that will tell them what speed the car is supposed to go and what the signal color is. Millions of traffic tickets and parking tickets are produced every year and this causes a lot of frustration among car owners. So with the usage of autonomous cars, users won’t be required to pay for parking and traffic tickets, saving their costs and reducing their frustration.
How Autonomous Car Technology is Already Reshaping our World
Waymo is Google’s platform for autonomous or driverless vehicles which operates fully driverless cars all days of the week around Phoenix, Arizona. Waymo has been titled the “World’s Most Experienced Driver” by Alphabet AI. In 2020, the technology expanded to operate commercial trucks as well.
Before Waymo Driver operates in a new area, it will map out the entire territory with high detailing. This includes registering curbs and stops signs. Then the platform adapts these into a customized map which is equipped with real-time sensor data. The information noted is then incorporated with real-time details to see how the road user might accordingly drive or behave. Through machine learning, complex data is gathered and is deciphered as to what is around the vehicle. It also responds to signals and signs like temporary stop signs and traffic light colors. This experience has been built over 20 million miles of real world driving and over 20 billion miles traveled in simulation.
Currently, Waymo is the only company that is operating a fully autonomous (driverless) public ride-hailing service in the United States. They have partnered with automobile giants such as Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover to help incorporate the technology of self-driving in their vehicles, and with original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to expose Waymo Driver to more people and places.
However, not only technology but also the confidence of the general public to allow driverless vehicles to drive them around needs to develop and advance. They have concerns over its safety level and that they will not be able to trust the driverless cars’ judgment. But when we look at the data, it is found that the accidents caused by an error in human judgment or incapability to drive cause a greater increase in accidents than an AI machine that is highly trained. There will also be other benefits, like reduced carbon footprint and pollution index. People will have enhanced livability and walkability benefits. Therefore, utilizing driverless cars should be seen as an opportunity to rid the world of many dangers and inconveniences.
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