This year a man who had a heart attack while in a self driving car was taken to the nearest hospital automatically. What a saver? A self driving bus drove a test crew through the country side. Self driving taxis are being tested by the company Uber. Articulated vehicles were not left out; a self driving articulated truck was tested on the highway with a driver behind the steering wheel. In a rather bizarre incident a Tesla self driving vehicle was involved in a crash.
Several states in the United States have passed laws regulating the deployment of self driving cars on the roads. Clearly, everyone in the automobile industry is preparing for a future with self driving vehicles also known as autonomous vehicles. How prepared is your city?
What is the history?
We have come a long way without a doubt. In the middle ages the fastest way to move from one part of the country to another was on horseback, horse drawn carriages or on camel back.
The first fuel powered vehicle was developed by a frenchman called Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769. It was powerd by steam. It traveled at 2.25 km per hour. This was the first automobile.
The first car, powered by an internal combustion engine as we know it today was invented by German Karl Friedrich Benz in 1885. This was the first practical automobile.
The automatic transmission was invented in 1921 by Canadian Alfred Horner Munro. This was made popular by General Motors who introduced it in the 1940 Oldsmobile. This made it relatively easier to drive a car.
The first self-sufficient (and therefore, truly autonomous) cars appeared in the 1980s, with Carnegie Mellon University’s Navlab and ALV projects in 1984. We have come along way from that time to today. In fact non driverless cars in use today have lots of computer programs made up of millions of lines of code installed in them which manipulate several functions including tha automatic breaking system (ABS).
Driverless tractors and mechanized agricultural machines like combined harvestors and planters have also been developed and are being deployed on several farms.
The case for driverless cars
One may ask what’s wrong with today’s cars. To answer the question I would ask whether driverless cars mark an improvement over todays cars. The answer is a big yes. As I indicated in the previous post the universe is cyclical. We are constantly moving from an old state to the new state and this new stage must represent a marked improvement. Driverless cars would help us achieve that.
It is said that autonomous cars would reduce the number of cars on the roads. That is true. You don’t need a chauffeur. That increases the seating capacity for the average car from 4 to 5 on average. Take taxis for example. Another reason the number of cars would reduce is because fewer people would have to keep cars as self driving taxis could be called anytime.
Proponents of driverless cars say that when all cars on the road are eventually replaced by driverless cars road safety would increase. It is reported that 94% of road accidents are caused by human error. Driverless car technologies would reduce this. There would also be less traffic congestion. The technologies involved in controlling driverless cars explain why this would happen. They also present us with unique opportunities.
Another reason to move to or prepare for driverless cars is that if you don’t, your share price would fall. In other words your profits would decline. If you are a CEO in the industry you would be kicked out. The impact of such an indiscretion could be devastating for economies heavily dependent on automobile production. The whole point is, if one can move about without learning to drive, without wasting energy manipulating pedals and the steernig wheel why would the person want to do otherwise.
What technologies are involved?
Today many non-autonomous cars have gps navigators that even talk. You hear something like “slow down and take the next turn to your right”. These navigators using global positioning technology help people find their destinations.
GPS is one of the technologies used by self driving vehicles. Many people who have used gps navigators for years can attest to their reliability. In fact some people can’t go anywhere within the city without a gps navigator. The navigator also displays their position on the map. Chances are that your phone has a gps chip and you can see your position on a map change as you walk or move.
Next comes the set of technologies that help self driving cars detect objects around them. How do aeroplanes above the sky traveling at over 600 km/hr detect other airplanes and mountains. They used a technology called radio detection and ranging (RADAR). RADAR is used by self driving cars.
How do ships and submarines detect objects moving within deep waters. They use a technology called sound navigation and ranging (SONAR). Self driving cars are equipped with this technology.
Lastly, there is light detection and ranging (LIDAR). These three technologies are used by self driving cars to detect stationary and objects in motion around them. Coupled with GPS and maps computer programmers have created excellent algorithms for self driving cars to navigate the streets varying their speeds. They even come to an abrupt stop when human beings try crossing the streets.
A word on Safety
One may ask what if these fail. Mission critical systems must be deployed to ensure that they don’t fail. These systems must be real time and deterministic.
In software development emphasis is placed on testing. Several tests have to be conducted and the companies are doing just that. The cars must not fail. The technologies must not fail. This is the time for the right legislation. This is the time for worst case scenario tests and the development of better algorithms.
Although self driving cars are already available most companies estimate mass productions starting from 2020. It is estimated that by 2030 they would constitute the majority of cars on the roads.
It goes without saying that road construction must make provision for this mass rollouts. In most developed countries this is not a problem. Highway authorities must design.
Auto repair shops and auto repair franchises must be psyched up for this change. Boachsofts LowRider software designed for auto repair shops and other repair shops would be ready for the transition to driverless cars
A word on the economy
It is clear that many would lose their jobs because of driverless cars. This presents economists with a unique opportunity to reallocate labor. This shouldn’t be too difficult. if you earn a living as a chauffeur you have many years to retrain and find another job.
Driverless cars represent a marked improvement over current cars. The technologies involved have been tried and tested. Further rigorous tests ought to be conducted to ensure to guarantee a higher safety benchmark. Governments at all levels federal, state, city ought to put in place the right legislation to ensure a smooth transition. Developing countries ought to seek the right advice.
Lastly the transition would happen. The precision of positioning systems like NASA’s GPS, Europe’s Galileo and that of Russia’s GLONASS although adequate must be improved. If you own an auto repair shop use Boachsoft’s LowRider 2016 to manage work orders and customers.
Credit: Yaw Boakye-Yiadom. Yaw Boakye-Yiadom is the founder and 100% shareholder of Boachsoft
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