When I first chose this class, I knew little of autonomous driving and its implications aside from the occasional article with a catchy headline that I clicked. I chose to focus my blog on the technology behind self driving cars, because without the technology, autonomous vehicles are still only in the imaginations of science fiction writers and concept car designers. The beginning search for technology related to self driving cars lead me to LIDAR.
After learning more about LIDAR, I concluded that in the minds of most people LIDAR is the technology that the progress of AVs is based on. As of now, LIDAR can be very expensive, hindering its ability to be the main technology that AVs rely on due to economic reasons. Because of this expense some companies, like Tesla, are relying on cameras to “see” for their autonomous driving systems. Mobileye, an Israeli company that is also working on developing AVs with solely cameras, boldy states on their website that “From the outset, Mobileye’s philosophy has been that if a human can drive a car based on vision alone – so can a computer.” While some people will rely on one technology or the other, most people in the industry envision a combination of LIDAR, cameras, and radar to help the AVs “see” by collecting a massive amount of data.
What do these cars plan to do with this data? Well, creating a 3D map of all the roads in the world would be the best use of this data to help cars have a “memory” of the roads ahead and make them easier to navigate. There are many companies mapping across the world right now, trying to accelerate the deployment of AVs. Considering the cars can not store all of the data necessary to compile an up-to-date 3D map of the world, they will have to receive a lot of this information remotely. This is why some internet service providers have brought up AVs to the repeal net neutrality. The internet service providers envision “fast lanes” where the data needed for autonomous driving is fed to the car at high rates and high capacity.
When will AVs be on the road?
One might think that after researching the current technology behind AVs, I might have a fair estimate of when we will commonly see these cars on the road, but in reality I’m not quite sure. Right now, you can see AVs on the road, even ones without a safety driver behind the wheel. These cars are mainly being deployed as self driving taxis. As these taxis become more and more common, the apprehension about a car driving itself will disappear as well. What makes it hard for me to give a timeline on when AVs might become available to the masses is the government. As of now US government has put very little restriction on AVs, allowing developers to deploy up to 2,500 autonomous vehicles that don’t meet safety standards, with plans in place to increase that to 100,000. My fear is that when the first accident involving an autonomous vehicle will release a big public backlash calling for stronger restrictions on AVs, thereby hindering the process of their development. My best guess for when AVs will become popular, even with the hinderance of restrictions, would be 25 years.
After taking this class, I see now that the market for autonomous vehicles is one full of research and development and ripe for the taking. Increasingly autonomous features are constantly being brought to market, usually on high end vehicles, but the race for a fully autonomous vehicles is (*pun intended*) a bumpy road. The companies that reach the finish line and become the prominent players in the AV market will not only have to perfect the technology, but also master the marketing, lobbying, and deployment of their product in order to defend their position. I’m excited to witness and to continue to learn about this development of technology that will change the way most everyone goes about their daily lives, but mostly, I’m excited that I’ll be able to sleep while commuting.