Autonomous vehicles and social impact
The use of the cars for our everyday travels has massively modified the urban tissues of our towns, changing our lifestyle and daily habits, but for sure the ongoing challenge about autonomous vehicles will be less disruptive in terms of environmental impact.
What is an “autonomous car”? Which social and cultural questions will they introduction impose?
First of all “cars without drivers” sound a bit odd and scaring for each one of us, but having a look to the massive investments made by the majors of the automotive industry, they makes brighter the future of the next urban and sub urban mobility, giving to all of us a new perspective for a more relaxed and performing life style.
For sure the legal impact of this new mix of technologies on the roads is one of the key points that slow down but at same time give sense to the introduction of self-driving mobility, rising up relevant questions as: who is in charge of the vehicle? Who is liable in case of car accident if the human driver is not constantly paying attention to the surrounding events? Do we need to consider the on-board devices as a “substitute” of the driver with their own responsibilities and consequently legally liable of the events?
From the technical point of view, we can refer to an autonomous car in simple terms as a self-controlled vehicle. Other names given to these cars are robot cars or driverless car.
For reason being, they have an artificial intelligence system that manage the duties to drive properly as a sort of “human driver”.
To execute commands and evaluate the surrounding environments, these cars are equipped with many sensors positioned around the car’s body. These sensors send and receive signals in conjunction with an embedded computer application to control into an efficient and safe manner the overall functionalities.
Between the main sensors and devices involved to detect pedestrians’ behaviours, obstacles, traffic signals and all other artifacts and elements that commonly populate a road scenario, we can mention:
- Radar sensors (Radio detection and ranging): these sensors help to adjust and keep the position of the car within the lane of the moving car. Radar sensors function using radio waves. They have major advantages compared to other wavelength detectors: in that radio waves are less absorbed by environmental bodies compared to other radio emitters devices. This feature enables the car sensors using radars to be able to detect objects that are far and near. They also has a very fast responds time (time signal travels to object and back) and is ideally suited for harsh environments and climates.
- LIDAR sensors (light detection and ranging): LIDAR use LASER beams to calculate objects that are close by. They have the feature to be fast in detecting accurately objects that are nearly sometimes transmitting up 150.000 pulses per second.
- Ultra sonic sensors: used to calculate distance covered and time of speed from the time of take off. They work by using ultrasonic radiations. Ultrasonic sensors emit frequencies that are very high such that the human ear cannot hear. They have the advantage to be not affected by midst and dirt in the environment and they can detect objects even in foggy environment, making them ideally suited for rainy and stormy weather.
- Regular cameras: They collect surrounding pictures and send to the main computer memory for analysis. Based on the image recognition algorithms of the surrounding environment a computer can make important decisions on how to act.
- 3-D cameras: This camera takes supporting pictures and provides additional information to the information taken by radar cameras. This gives a unique view point to the image and influence decision making.
Why a self-driving vehicle?
One of the biggest reluctance of a driver with the autonomous vehicles is the mistrust to leave his life in the hands of a fully automated system into an tough environment ,where something of unexpected could happen!
But for sure some advantages have to come thanks to the diffusion of this new approach to travelling and doing some researchers the following ones seem to be the most relevant:
- reduced cost of the vehicles insurance to be paid for risk assessment of car driver and insurance due to accidents: the statistics released based on 1.000.000 miles driving tests look really reassuring;
- more safety thanks to lesser traffic collision and object avoidance when using these cars;
- increased mobility since automated cars come with cameras to detect traffic signals and other road designs that increase the flow of traffic;
- different levels of comfort for drivers, where the vehicle will adapt the driving style and support to serve the needs of the elderly, children and even adults with little or driver problems.
Autonomous car levels
The society of automotive engineers has defined a set of guide lines to describe different levels of autonomy in self driven cars. These descriptions have been provided for the future aim of constructing a totally autonomous car.
- Level 1: this level is regarded as the first attempt to totally suspend the activities of a human driver on a car stirring wheel. Here automation is effective but still entirely under human supervision. That is, the driver must monitor the way the car goes on the road and must take full responsibility in case of any undesired development. In this system only one element of driving a car is been totally automated. But however important decisions are made by the car driver.
- Level 2: here more than one element of driving is totally controlled by the automation system of the car. In the most advanced level, cruising and directional functions such as steering control, brakes and clutch functions are totally taken over by the system. The system makes use of more sophisticated radar application that can avoid front and back jams while the driver is idle. Many car manufacturers are at the level 2+ that is almost at level 3 at this present moment.
- Level 3: cars at this level must have the ability to fully automate all driving functions but however the driver must be present and must respond to calls by the system to intervene. This is a significant improvement as the driver will only act in very rare cases. This type of automation is also referred to by some as conditional automation.
- Level 4 : not really need any driver. It is widely speculated that at this level cars will be able to navigate remote and urban areas. However remote areas must still have certain road mapping and data. This innovation shall be made possible by assessing more timely data, advanced HD mapping and a faster car to car communication.
- Level 5: Here autonomous cars will be able to operate fully without any human assistance and will be able to cruise any area whether urban terrain or not.
Hoping in a better future for our life style, we can only wait the next steps of the automotive industry, where the challenge to validate reliable self-driving platforms is bringing to life amazing models of artificial intelligence.
Next scenarios for self driving vehicles
Vehicles expert Dr. Daniel Sperling walks us through the future of transportation and the multiple revolutions needed to make self-driving cars an affordable, convenient, and efficient reality.