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Self Driving cars: What's the holdup?

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Self -driving -carSelf-driving cars are on their way apparently, so it won’t be long before we all just hop into our cars, bark some orders at them and they whisk us away to our intended destination.

Whether that prospect fills you with unbridled joy or abject terror it appears that’s the way things are heading so not wanting to be left behind we’ve taken a look at the state of play.

When did automation in vehicles begin?

Experiments in self driving vehicles start surprisingly early, the earliest reportedly occurring in the 1920’s - here are a few highlights in their developments over the decades listed on wikipedia:

  • In 1925, radio-controlled car was demonstrated on New York City streets, through a traffic jam.

  • In 1960, Ohio State University ran a project to develop driverless cars assisted by electronic devices installed in roads.

  • In the 1980s, a vision-guidedrobotic van, designed byMercedes-Benz achieved a speed of almost 40 mph on deserted streets.

It turns out though, unsurprisingly, completely autonomous driving is actually quite tricky and all of the above feel a bit gimmicky (except maybe the ‘80s effort).

Things started getting serious when the military got involved in the early 21st century funded the development of three unmanned vehicles capable of navigating miles of off-road terrain.

So if the military had got this far in the early 2000’s why aren’t we all whizzing around in self driving cars already? Velcro and superglue didn’t take that long to reach the mass market.

So what’s the holdup with self driving cars?

Well, one major concern with trusting cars to drive themselves is safety.  The military have the advantage that they don’t necessarily have to worry so much if the odd person gets injured or killed by their autonomous vehicles - it’s a generally accepted occupational hazard.

Google, who’ve been experimenting with self driving cars for some time under controlled circumstances and who certainly aren’t short of a bob or two, admitted in 2016 even with their enormous skills and resources that…

“… fully autonomous vehicles are widely available, going anywhere that regular cars can, might be as much as 30 years away.”

Despite evidence to the contrary it turns out people are actually very clever compared to machines in their ability to take in a lot of information very fast and decide what’s worth avoiding and what isn’t!

In contrast to Google’s pessimism, Audio has claimed that it’s A8 model is the first car to reach level 3 of the SAE levels of autonomy leading some experts to claim that progress is being made quicker than expected (Can’t help thinking that there’s a pretty big drop off between Level 5 and Level 4 of autonomy!)

What other obstacles are stopping cars drive themselves?

So it seems that the technological problems of automated cars are being addressed slowly but steadily, and whilst safety is still top of the list of issues to address there are several other major obstacles.

The thorny issue of Data privacy and ownership is a major concern.

Once cars are automated they will essentially be collecting data all the time about us and our behaviour (where we go, when we go there etc) and, as past history has shown us, big companies can sometimes misuse and exploit our data for commercial and, more disturbingly, political reasons!

Pioneers of electric vehicles Tesla, for example, have stated in their privacy policy that they have the right to transfer and use data generated from their customers in pretty much any way they please.

Another big issue is infrastructure and regulation.

New kinds of vehicle care likely to require new kinds of roads, road markings, charge points and laws to govern their use, and as we all know in the UK - political negotiations can take some time.

So whichever side of the fence you sit on (“Yay! Bring it on!” Or “I will never step into one of those things!") it looks likely we may all have a bit of a wait on our hands before you can just jump in your car, bark an order at it and settle down to read a newspaper!

Is there anything we should’ve mentioned?

Do you have any thoughts, comments or views on self-driving cars and vehicles?

Is there anything you think we should have mentioned?

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By Alastair Baker at 6 Feb 2019, 00:00 AM