Self-driving cars are a hot topic in recent years, receiving praise and hate at the same time. Most people value the safety aspect of the technology, which is perhaps more important than anything else. However, not everybody is ready to let go of the steering wheel and switch to autonomous driving. That requires absolute faith in the technology, something that the average human being isn’t ready to accept overnight. More precisely, it takes time and the recent autonomous vehicle crashes undoubtedly don’t help.
But before even tackling these issues, I feel obliged to tell my side of the story. As a car enthusiast, I love driving. For me, it is the peak of human-machine interaction. And, at least from my own perspective, we are good at driving. Every time I’m behind the steering wheel, I feel safe. I believe in my own abilities to make the right choice in any given situation. Oh, and it also gives me joy. Being able to travel at high velocities and experience intense G-forces in the corners elevates me as a human being. Without a car, I wouldn’t be able to experience these things first hand while being at the helm.
On the other hand, I’m also a massive fan of science fiction. And I love this genre precisely because it shows us technologies like autonomous vehicles. When I first read about self-driving cars, it seemed so cool that it immediately caught my attention. The other day, though, I felt sadness while driving my car. Will this experience disappear in the future? It is an answer that still lingers in my mind, even decades after I was first introduced to self-driving.
The reality is, this technology has the potential of making humanity better. People are dying in traffic, and the most common issue is human error. When looking at these things with the knowledge I acquired over the years, I’ll admit that, objectively, we suck at driving. Even I can be careless sometimes, despite the love for driving. So, are autonomous cars good? Despite the few shortcomings, I’m confident that self-driving will become the standard, and we will be better because of it.
People are Bad at Driving
Look, there are many excellent drivers among us. Right now, not even the best autonomous-driving technology can touch the lap times of F1 racing drivers. However, most people view driving only as an obligation. When we are obligated to do something, we tend to lose attention quickly. Today that’s truer than ever before. Our smartphones are buzzing seemingly every minute. The navigation talks constantly. Our favorite song is on the radio. Our minds wander around while we drive, which makes us lose attention.
Computers never do that. Give it a task, and it will finish it relentlessly, without breaking a sweat. Attention is never a problem with computers. As a matter of fact, it’s in their nature to be attentive to the issue that sits in front of them. They are excellent when it comes to performing single tasks. A self-driving car will never think of other stuff rather than the road ahead. The inability of computers to think makes them an outstanding choice as drivers. Simple as that.
Moreover, computers can communicate much better and faster with each other. An autonomous car will already know where the vehicle in front of it will turn, even before it makes the turn. And it will all happen in the blink of an eye. Being able to connect into vast networks will make future self-driving cars almost impossible to crash.
And on the matter of having fun while driving? We will still be able to enjoy driving our sports cars in the future, albeit probably not on public roads. That’s fine – driving on a track has always been more enjoyable.
What are the Advantages of Self-Driving Cars?
Autonomous driving offers numerous advantages over human driving. I will try to tackle every single one of them while also explaining why. Let’s start with the most obvious one.
Autonomous Driving is Safer
It seems obvious by now, but yes, autonomous cars are safer. A self-driving car will never make a turn without signaling to other drivers or vehicles. It will never try to check how many likes it had on the last Instagram post. Or call anyone while driving. Its only job will be to take you to your destination as fast and as safely as possible.
Autonomous cars also have much better sight than people. They will have dozens of cameras that will see every corner of the road. Thanks to advancements in radar technology, these vehicles can also see through fog, snow, and heavy rain. Oh, and crashes seem to happen most often in those circumstances.
On top of that, manufacturers are designing self-driving cars to follow strict rules. I think we can all agree that no driver in the world follows every rule. One beer doesn’t make a difference, does it? Well, self-driving cars will never drink that “one” beer. Or they will never drive faster than the limit.
No More Traffic Jams
When autonomous vehicles are ready to communicate with each other, they will act almost like a train. When the car in front accelerates, the car in the back will follow it precisely. If we say that the space between each vehicle should be 3 feet, self-driving cars will always adhere to it. People, not so much. We might be busy texting while other cars at the traffic light accelerate. It might take seconds until the guy behind notifies us with the horn. In other words, autonomous cars can drive much closer to each other, thus limiting traffic jams.
Less Fuel Consumption or Longer Range
Autonomous vehicles will never drive faster than needed. They will also always calculate the shortest and cheapest route to the desired destination. This not only makes the journey more efficient, but it also contributes to the environment. Electric cars can also greatly benefit from that when it comes to battery range.
Self-Driving Cars are More Convenient and Comfortable
Even some enthusiast drivers will agree that sitting in your car during a traffic jam isn’t fun. That’s why we often use our smartphones, don’t we? Self-driving cars will make our life much more convenient and comfortable. Instead of paying attention to the road, you might watch your favorite Netflix show. Or chat with the passengers while you face them. Or even sleep for that matter.
There are other ways that self-driving will help us. With these automobiles, you’ll never need to search for parking spaces again. When you go shopping, the vehicle will leave you at the entrance and park itself. And it will pay the parking bill by itself (albeit admittedly using your balance). Finally, due to fewer traffic jams, self-driving cars will probably be faster overall.
Reinventing the Car
Although it’s early to talk about these things, self-driving has the potential to reinvent the car itself. Future autonomous vehicles might not be personal at all. It doesn’t make sense to travel only with one passenger in an automobile that can welcome up to seven. Car sharing is now in its infancy, but it will take full swing once self-driving tech is mature. Self-driving cars will be able to transport multiple passengers efficiently, significantly lowering the overall cost of owning a vehicle. Car-sharing may go as far as to transform owning a vehicle into a simple monthly subscription.
What are the Disadvantages of Self-Driving Cars?
Autonomous driving still has significant hurdles to overcome. Right now, autonomous vehicles are far from ready to be just thrown into the traffic chaos. To fully exploit the technology, we need to overcome some challenges first.
Driverless cars still can’t see over the vehicle in front of them or behind the curb. And when it comes to making a quick decision, they rely on a code that some human wrote. If the car is provided with two choices, one being hitting a child and the other hitting an adult, which one should it go for? Sure, hitting the adult seems obvious, but that’s something that we humans need to agree on.
Communicating with Humans in Traffic
Self-driving cars suck at reading humans. Our erratic behavior in traffic is not something that computers can process. Let’s say a cyclist in the other lane suddenly decides to change direction, without signaling. The computer will try to react, but it will often be too late. So, should the car slow down every time it sees a cyclist then ? Even though it might happen only once in a thousand times? That’s something that we need to decide before the technology touches the road.
The Infrastructure is Not Ready
Our roads are designed for human beings, not for computers. If we want to make autonomous driving viable, we need to start thinking outside the box. Self-driving cars can’t do everything by themselves – they will need а new infrastructure. Designing the roads with self-driving in mind is essential if we want the technology to succeed.
One of the biggest problems we face in recent years is privacy. Companies like Facebook and Google already know everything about their users so they can target them with advertisements. This problem will only get worse in autonomous vehicles. Using the services of these or some other companies in self-driving cars will probably be the norm. Would you let them know everything about your vehicle whereabouts so you can get better advertisement suggestions next time? Some analysts suggest that these companies invest in self-driving technology precisely because they want you to use their services. That’s not far from the truth in my opinion.
How Will Self-Driving Cars Affect the Economy?
As I mentioned previously, self-driving has the ability to reinvent the car with car-sharing completely. This method offers significant benefits but also great business opportunities. Owning a fleet of autonomous vehicles is an enticing prospect because they will be more efficient than human-driven taxis.
On top of that, many people will be able to spend less time traveling and more time working. Today, people spend over 30 minutes of commuting to work on average. That’s one unpaid hour a day committed to your work and not your leisure time. With self-driving cars, you can start working the moment you enter the vehicle, and the company will pay you for that. It’s more efficient both for you and for the firm.
However, the thing that lingers in most people’s minds is machines taking our job positions. And rightfully so. Those taxi drivers will be out of their jobs if self-driving cars take their place. Fearing an uncertain future is always justified, even though some experts seem to be more optimistic about the matter.
According to automotive expert Andreas Tschiesner, the autonomous driving technology will open new jobs. Instead of drivers, we will need more computer specialists and public servants. People that will make sure that this technology work as it was supposed to. According to Andreas’s estimates, more jobs will be open than will be closed. I guess only time will tell if that’s the case.