By Mary Ann Keeling
In case you aren’t yet familiar with self-driving cars, the name pretty much says it all. Imagine phoning a taxi, the car pulls up, but there’s no driver inside. It’s just an empty car, ready to take you to where you need to go. Aside from that example, there are countless benefits to self-driving cars and they’ve actually proven, thus far, to be a lot safer than one might think. Not only that, but this trend has huge potential to help the environment and to take away some of the strain we’re putting on Mother Nature through our automobiles.
Google’s Self Driving Car
Over the past couple of years, Google has had self-driving cars driving around California. Even on the busy streets of Los Angeles, it’s absolutely incredible how safe this car has proven to be, even though it’s an early model. In all the time this Google car spent on the road in LA, a place notorious for gutsy drivers and terrible traffic, the car has only been in one accident. Guess what? When that accident happened, it was one of the rare times when there was a human driving the car. So, the car’s self-driving feature has proven to be safer than when the car has a human driving it. Now, this is just one piece of anecdotal evidence, but with the amount of automobile accidents and injuries that occur each year, even a small % reduction is welcome.
There are, however, some legal issues standing in the way of Google’s self-driving cars. First of all, they’re not getting much help from automakers, who are reluctant. Automakers are more focused on assisted driving, rather than full-on self-driving cars. Other downfalls are that these cars have trouble recognizing traffic cops and their hand gestures, or knowing where the lane markers are on the road when there is snow. If construction is going on, and the routes are different than on their maps, that also poses a set of risks. Needless to say, there are some kinks that need to be ironed out before self-driven automobiles are ready for the mainstream.
When Will These Cars Be Ready?
Currently there are about a dozen self-driving cars on US roads according to Google. Together, they’ve traveled 500.000 miles or more in beta tests. In the next five years they will be available on the market. In new Navigant research it is stated that by 2035 sales of autonomous vehicles will reach more than 95 milion worldwide (per year!). That’s about 75% of all light duty vehicles sold. Nissan has recently stated that they see 2020 as a target for self-driving cars to hit the roads in a major way. Assisted driving cars are already available, for example cars that have features to automatically parallel park for you, making an easy task out of of one of the most dreaded driving maneuvers. A more-optimistic Google has set 2018 as a realistic target, staring they are aiming to have some form of self-driving cars on the roads by 2018, and with their prototype in Los Angeles they’re well on the way.
How Does This Make The World Greener?
Cars driving around still need to be fueled, but the ways in which self-driving cars can pave the road to a greener tomorrow go beyond that. First of all, with fewer accidents there is less of a need for people to buy new cars to replace ones that are beyond repair, therefore less parts going into the scrapyards and landfills. Some parts from wrecked cars are recycled, but for the most part they’re just wasted.
Thanks to vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems, autonomous cars and trucks could significantly reduce traffic congestion and traffic accidents. And it’s about time, as no new car safety feature has been introduced since early 2000s and the use of airbags in vehicles.
In the introduction of this article, we talked about the idea of self-driving taxi cabs. If you can fit 5 people into a car, rather than 4, this will mean that in some cases people will only need to order one cab for their group of friends rather than 2, which cuts the emissions for the trip in half. This isn’t a huge deal, but every little bit helps when it comes to making the world a greener place for future generations, right? Also, that’s just one example.
Tesla Throws Their Hat Into The Ring
Finally, here’s the big one. Are you familiar with Tesla Motors? They make, arguably, the coolest electric cars out today. They started off with a luxury roadster, now their current model is a high-end sedan, but in the coming years Tesla will be releasing a car at a price point that’s much more accessible to the average consumer, thus bringing electric cars into the mainstream. That covers the green side of things, but what about self-driving? Well, recently Tesla Motors has announced plans for extensive research to put themselves at the front of the pack in terms of self-driving cars, so the logical conclusion is that the next breed of self-driving cars will also be powered by electricity and take a much smaller toll on the environment. It’s a double-whammy of green!
Final Thoughts On Self-Driving Cars
There are many advantages to self-driving cars, especially when you consider that someone could drive themselves and their friends out for a night on the town, and have the car take them home safely. Also, it should help a great deal for truckers who have to drive long shifts and worry about falling asleep at the wheel. Assisted driving is almost certainly the next step, we expect to see some degree of self-driving vehicles that still require some form of human interaction, but completely self-driving cars don’t seem to be too far away!