If you drive a newer model car, your car may have an automatic parallel parking function. This may seem straight out of a science fiction novel, but the technology of self-driving cars is improving with every model year. The idea of self-driving cars has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until recently our technology caught up.
The culture of cars in the United States has led to some unique consequences such as heavy traffic, safety hazards, air pollution, and limited mobility. Self-driving cars might be the answer to these and other problems.
Currently, some cars have self-driving features, such as the previously mentioned parallel parking and lane control assist, which tells the driver when they begin to drift out of the lane. These features contribute to our collective safety in ways that could only be expanded upon by fully self-driving cars.
Already, some cities are considering provisions for self-driving cars on their roads. It’s important for us to consider the benefits of self-driving cars before they become common on the road.
Which Companies Are Making Self-Driving Cars?
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Several companies make cars with self-driving features, but which companies are trying to bring fully-automated self-driving cars on the market?
Some of these companies are working with auto manufacturers, while some auto manufacturers are working on their own to create self-driving cars. Among auto manufacturers working toward this goal are Tesla, Toyota, Volvo, and Nissan.
Many manufacturers are trying to have a version of a self-driving car ready for consumers around 2020 or 2021. Other manufacturers, like Daimler, have a slightly different customer in mind. They are working to develop a self-driving semi, designed with long-distance truckers in mind.
Some companies are developing a self-driving electric car. The most famous of these brands is Tesla, but it’s not alone. Faraday Future and LeEco are also working toward the same goal, and while LeEco has no set deadline for this project, Faraday Future hopes to have their self-driving electric car ready by 2020.
Companies like Uber and Lyft are also working with auto manufacturers to create autonomous cars. Uber worked with Ford to test some of these vehicles in Pittsburgh in 2016. They are also working with Volvo to develop self-driving cars. Lyft is working with General Motors to create self-driving cars for their specific use.
Some Benefits of Self-Driving Cars
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So, it looks like self-driving cars are on their way to becoming a reality. What are the benefits of self-driving cars? Why should you consider purchasing one?
1. Self-Driving Cars May Make Roads Safer
What currently causes the most car accidents? Drivers. Whether it’s distracted driving, driving under the influence, drowsy driving or reckless driving, people are the leading cause of car accidents.
By eliminating the human element, we may be able to drastically reduce the number of traffic accidents, potentially saving thousands of lives a year.
2. Self-Driving Cars Will Improve Traffic Flow
Related to the previous point, one major cause of traffic slowdowns and bottlenecks is human selfishness and emotion. Road rage causes some drivers to cut others off, tailgate, or block them from merging into a different lane.
Researchers have discovered if cars maintain an equal distance between each other, traffic would continue to move. Even when traffic slows down, if we maintained distance between cars, we would not have traffic jams in which cars must stop moving altogether.
If the road were populated by self-driving cars, they would network together and maintain proper distance between each other. This would eliminate most traffic jams and frustrations we currently deal with every day.
Incidentally, if traffic congestion were no longer taking up valuable space, the highway would be able to accommodate more travelers at once. If your self-driving car were communicating digitally with the cars around it, the cars would move smoothly like a unit, all at the same speed.
3. Self-Driving Cars Will Give Us More Free Time
If you ask anyone who works a nine to five job in an urban area what is the most frustrating and unproductive part of their day, many of them would probably say it’s their commute.
Maybe you would agree with that feeling. If you spend hours of your day sitting in traffic as you drive to and from work, you probably feel like you waste too many hours of your day.
What if you could use that time to catch up on some reading or respond to emails while you’re in rush hour traffic?
If you had a self-driving car, you could do exactly that. You could let your car drive you home as you use those precious hours to be productive, or to wind down from your workday.
4. Self-Driving Cars Will Improve Fuel Efficiency
What affects your car’s fuel efficiency?
Your driving skills! If you start and stop frequently, or have the bad habit of accelerating quickly, you will use more fuel. This will reduce the fuel efficiency of your car.
If you have a self-driving car, the car won’t have those bad driving habits. Also, if your car is surrounded by other self-driving cars, they are probably all going the same speed, reducing the need for start and go driving.
Your car would maintain a more constant speed for longer periods of time, and your fuel efficiency would be optimal.
5. Self-Driving Cars Will Provide Independence
If you are elderly or have a physical disability that prevents you from being able to operate a vehicle, your mobility and independence are limited. You must rely on someone else to drive you around when you want to go somewhere, or you navigate public transportation.
This can be inconvenient for you, since you either must work around someone else’s schedule to do your errands, or you must consider public transportation transit delays.
If you had a self-driving car, you would be on equal footing with every other commuter. Your independence would be restored, and you would be able to go anywhere you want, at any time.
What Are Some Disadvantages to Self-Driving Cars
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Looks like there are a lot of benefits of self-driving cars. But there must be some disadvantages as well.
The primary disadvantage is the logistics of the transition period between our current system, where all cars are operated by people, to a new system, where most cars are self-driving. It’s unclear how self-driving cars will interact with human drivers, and who will be liable in case of accidents.
Who would be responsible for educating users about how to use self-driving cars? And how will drivers respond to riding in a car that doesn’t drive the way they prefer to drive?
Additionally, self-driving cars have many of the same issues as any other computer. They may be vulnerable to hacking or cyberattacks. Because self-driving cars have software and programming, they will inevitably have bugs.
Data security is another potential problem. Some auto manufacturers may retain the rights to any data recorded by the onboard computer, while other manufacturers may decide the user owns this data upon purchasing the car.
Like any computer system, your self-driving car may need the occasional software update. It’s not clear what kinds of updates you would be able to override, and what would be the consequences of having a 10-year-old self-driving car. Like any aging computer, it might become slower with age.
What KInds of Self-Driving Cars Are Available Today?
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Now that you are aware of the benefits of self-driving cars, as well as the disadvantages, you might wonder what’s available on the market today. Tesla has started marketing their self-driving feature as an upgrade, but while the company had stated their goal was to have the feature ready in 2019, this seems unlikely.
While regulations don’t currently allow manufacturers to sell a completely self-driving car, some cars can come with self-driving features.
Some of these features include:
- Hands-Free Steering: This extremely rare feature is currently only available in one model, Cadillac Super Cruise CT6 Sedan, and it only works on certain roads.
- Stop and Go Cruise Control: Of the self-driving features available today, this is the most popular. This feature will let you maintain a specific distance between your car and the car in front of you. More advanced systems will slow your car to a stop and resume when the traffic begins moving again. This feature is available in almost any make of car this year.
- Lane-Centering Steering: This feature is almost as popular as the stop and go cruise control. It uses lane markings and tracks the car in front of you to keep your car inside your lane. You will still need to keep your hands on the wheel to use this feature. It is available in models of Volvo, Volkswagen, Lexus, Nissan, Infiniti, and others.
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While some companies have begun testing fully automated self-driving cars, we have yet to determine how these cars will be regulated on our roads. The time will soon come when auto manufacturers will be ready to market these vehicles, though. Soon, you will share the road with these vehicles and their passengers.
Featured Image via AARP