For decades, self-driving cars were the stuff of science fiction. Today, Tesla and Google are experimenting with self-driving cars. While trials of these vehicles have seen success, perfection remains elusive.
The electric car company Tesla has added self-driving functions to some vehicles, most notably the Model S, which includes hands-free autopilot technology. Unfortunately, someone was killed in an accident on a Florida highway involving the Model S. This fatality drives home the main problem engineers are finding with self-driving cars: people tend to put too much trust in their functionality and lose control of the car.
Google experimented with self-driving cars in 2010 and focused on creating cars that drive themselves with a driver present. As part of this trial, Google allowed some of their employees to sit behind the wheel during their regular commutes. When engineers monitored the employees via video, they were alarmed by what they saw: the employees weren’t focused on the road, many were distracted, and some were even sleeping. The engineers concluded that people are not capable of switching immediately back to the “situational awareness” that allows them to respond quickly in split-second events.
With this knowledge, Google switched to Plan B: making “fleet cars” that have no brake pedals, accelerators, or steering wheels, and that can travel no faster than 25 miles per hour. Progressive results of these trials yielded promising results. While the upgraded vehicle is not suitable for the interstate or long road trips, self-driving cars could become a reality for local commutes. Google estimates these cars will be market-ready by 2019.
Only time will tell if self-driving cars can be a reality, but they certainly are an exciting prospect.
[Source: New York Times]