Learn about autonomous vehicles and their impact.
- The pursuit of developing cars that drive themselves is older than most of us think. Since the 1920s, there have been a significant number of efforts put forth to realize this dream. Released from the burden of driving, occupants of a car would be free to pursue other activities, such as watching a movie, doing work, or even getting some sleep. For almost 100 years, this goal has seemed elusive. Research was conducted with government money and also independently by major car companies.
In the 1980s, the first visual-driven experiments were conducted. The first breakthroughs involved the application of both improved computer vision and a maturing technology called LIDAR. LIDAR uses a pulsed laser to illuminate a target and then measure the reflected pulses with a sensor. The differences in laser return times and wave lengths are then used to construct a three-dimensional representation of the target. In the 1990s, more successes were achieved and often funded by government and private competitions.
While distance was achieved with some vehicles, complete autonomy continued to be elusive. Between 2004 and 2007, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Agency, or DARPA, funded a series of grand challenges that finally resulted in a clear autonomous winner, a team headed by the Carnegie Mellon University. By the early 2010s, all the major car companies were making bets on commercially viable fully autonomous vehicles.
Seeing the writing on the wall, governments have been scrambling to enact laws and regulations to keep up with the innovation. To better understand the complete autonomous vehicle landscape, let's take a look at what is called the six levels of automation. Level zero is no automation. This means that all controls are made by a person. Level one is called driver assistance. Under certain circumstances, the car can control steering or acceleration, but not both simultaneously.
An example of this is cruise control. Level two is called partial automation. The car can steer, accelerate, and break itself in certain circumstances. Level three is called conditional automation. Under the right conditions, the car can manage many aspects of driving, including monitoring the environment. The driver must be able to take over at any time. Level four is called high automation. The car can operate without human input or oversight, but only under select conditions defined by factors such as road type or geographic area.
Finally, there is level five. This is full automation. The driverless car can operate on any road and in any conditions a human driver can negotiate. While we have production versions of levels zero through three, as of mid-2018, we're getting close to level four, but there is some distance yet to achieve a viable level five. In a level five automation world, humans are simply occupants of the vehicle with no control capabilities, except, perhaps, indicating where they want to go or indicating an emergency situation.
There is no steering wheel or pedals. This opens up a world of completely rethinking what the interior of the vehicle looks like, and the kinds of things that can be done during the journey. There is as much debate on what it will take to reach high adoption rates of level four and five vehicles as there is about timing. So far, the rate of innovation is exceeding most projections, but adoption just won't be about technology.
It will involve change costs, the regulatory environment, politics, economics, and even breaking the love affair that many have with driving. Autonomous vehicles will impact those that make their living driving, including all the attendant jobs and industries. However, the promise of self-driving vehicles is compelling. We could see a massive reduction in accidents that cause injuries and deaths. It could be the solution to the curse of urban congestion.
Vehicles could travel faster, getting us to our destinations more quickly. In fact, autonomous vehicles will likely disrupt urban planning and enable new ways of designing cities, particularly those historically planned around cars. Imagine no need for traffic signals, parking spaces, and even the grid system. Much like several of the technologies discussed in this course, autonomous vehicles represent a convergence.
They will be disruptive and the path they create will be uncertain. In fact, this one field may change the world in the next 30 years in ways that, right now, are impossible to imagine.
- History of the four industrial revolutions
- What has changed in science and culture
- Core technologies: AI, Internet of Things, and more
- Impact of the fourth industrial revolution
- Taking action