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Where’s My Driverless Car?
Dr Pedram Shojai speaks with Eric Nobel, founder of CarLab, an advanced automotive consulting firm that aides in the development of new vehicles. U.S. citizens are sick to death of spending a couple of hours each day commuting in bumper-to bumper traffic. The images portrayed in advertising are just not realistic. The next era of automobiles has many of us wondering what is taking so long to have self-driving cars become a reality. Will the consumer’s expectations and the reality of technology finally create this paradigm?
CES, the Consumer Electronics Show happens each year in Las Vegas which is comprised of about 10% autonomous cars. Eric says that the promise and problems are in place but, there needs some work on the game of the sensors ability to interpret and respond accurately to human gesture. A head nod, a wave, a smile, the presence of pedestrians or bicyclist, construction workers or traffic cop, all play a role in driving any vehicle. Creating the Artificial Intelligence that can recognize, interpret, respond to and return gestures is a monumental task and is the cause of the delays in total replacement of our current models. Technology is still in development and Eric says completion is still about 10-15 years out.
The Future of Automobiles
Eric recognizes that nearly everyone has been dreaming of the promise of owning a self-driving vehicle but, also reminds us of the multitude of issues that are holding up progress with the technology. Tesla has one in the marketplace but it still requires a driver in the seat with a hand on the wheel. Manufacturers are not completely ready to accept responsibility for the potential liabilities of 100% autonomous vehicles. There are still a lot of fears surrounding the concept. The luxury auto makers are making the most progress with this new class of cars. Cadillac, for example, has developed a component they call Supercruise. These cars even do reasonably well in traffic jams. Furthermore, Eric reports that most of the accidents involving self-driving vehicles were not their fault but actually caused by human error.
In our human desire to have everything be easy, comfortable and pleasing, we would rather be reading, napping, texting, for instance, rather than driving in traffic. Eric touches on the facts of a study regarding multitasking, and reminding us that neither task is completed to our best ability. One study conducted by Volvo showed a 15-30 second delay when distracted. Trying to multitask while driving has caused the numbers of traffic deaths to rise significantly since the advent of safety factors such as airbags, anti-lock brakes, and seat belts helped lower the death rates. Technology, even if temporarily, has set us back in safe travel.
Big questions play into the process as well. Having varying regulations at all levels, Federal, State, City and County make it problematic for programming electronic devices such as the sensors, with these varying regulations being different from location to location. The sensors are still a fairly prominent feature on autonomous cars because it’s still difficult to efficiently miniaturize this technology.
Some cities are welcoming manufacturers in to help create new jobs in some areas so the technology is progressing quickly in order to meet the demand. Complete level 5 cars is the desired promise of fulfilment. The overall globally legislated goal of total electrification will be a mixture of hybrids, electric models, and autonomous vehicles. Electrification is set to be in full compliance by 2030. Designers often use the phrase “perfection is the enemy of the good.” But we can’t let it get in the way of progress while we let the planet burn up from the greenhouse gasses. It’s important that we continue asking the right questions to keep progress for preserving the planet moving in the right direction.