It’s clear to see that 2016 has been the year of progress for the self-driving car phenomenon. Although the idea has been floating about for decades, more and more tests and experiments have taken place this year, with an increasing amount of new companies jumping on the self-driving band wagon. After Uber’s big test release last month, we have produced a little update!
Tesla was early to announce the developments of their self-driving car, in October last year, resulting in many other car companies to follow suit. Tesla’s autopilot mode allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel (although advised to keep close), with the car driving to its destination without the need of the driver to steer. What could possibly go wrong?
As most people are aware, Tesla’s autopilot development took a wrong turn in May this year, when the car failed to recognise a light on a passing lorry, causing the car to drive straight underneath it. The driver at the time was watching Harry Potter on the in car DVD player and not paying attention to the road, sadly resulting in fatality. In response to this, Tesla explained “autopilot is getting better all the time, but it’s not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert”.
For self-driving cars, especially at Tesla, this crash was a PR disaster. However, taxi company Uber are new kids on the block, offering a first time self-driving car in a ride-hailing capacity. What’s more, they have even installed a selfie taking tablet inside the car – marketing perfection! With the test cars having hit the road on the 14th of September, one claim from a tester explained that the car randomly disengaged from autopilot mode, requiring quick adaption to human control. When a computer is making the split second decisions instead of a human being, alertness is at the forefront of these tests.
So how successful will this self-driving phenomenon be? After the launch of Uber’s self-driving tests in Pittsburgh USA, over a third of Americans said that they would never actually buy a self-driving car for themselves. So, is there a future for autopilot automation?
Ford appears to think so, announcing that their self-driving car will be ready in 2021, without a steering wheel. In light of the Tesla crash and the Uber concerns, this doesn’t sound plausible. However, Ford is focusing on “Level 4 automation” (Tesla had achieved “Level 2 automation”) meaning the need for human control is far less. So, in 5 years’ time we could be travelling in cars with no steering wheels and no need for human control!
Google now seem to be taking the lead in the self-driving news, claiming that over 2 million fully autonomous miles have been logged from their self-driving cars. This is the equivalent of 300 years of human driving experience.
So in such a competitive market, are we just seeing a lot of one-upmanship between the automotive industries or is the self-driving future truly realistic?