I know I would hear it from my dad every time we had a long drive. He would say he wanted car that he could just tell it where he wanted to go and the car would drive there. Of course when I was a kid that was still the stuff of sci-fi. As I’ve grown up there have been various improvements and such that we have inched closer and closer to that goal. Cruise control gave way to adaptive cruise control (a car smart enough not to ram full speed into a stopped car ahead of you). GPS started coming in more and more cars, if the car wouldn’t drive you there at least it would tell you how to get there. Then came cars that could parallel park by themselves. And after that cars that would ease you back into your lane if you started to drift. But no self-driving car, until Tesla.
If you have missed out on what Tesla Motors has been offering they make electric cars. Full on, plug it in at night to charge it up, no gas tank electric cars. They keep looking at the way we do cars and seeing where it would make sense to change them. For instance they don’t have dealerships, you buy the car direct from the company that made it. Also living in a WIFI world, these cars get updates. And many of Tesla’s cars have been granted an update that allows them to drive themselves.
In this some people see the beginning of Skynet, where the machines will rise up. However this isn’t so much a thinking tell your car your destination and your off kind of set up. A number of people are starting to think it will be a safer way to drive though. Tesla has announced that all new cars that come off its line will have the ability for full autopilot. This includes a suite of cameras and sensor to give the car a full 360 degree view of what’s happening. It also means a faster computer to process all of that data. And when they talk about sensors they don’t just mean cameras. Tesla claims to be adding radar and sonar to the cars as well. This allows the car to have a better sense of what is going on around the car than the driver would, as there are no blind spots and much less reduced visibility due to weather. The faster processor also means that the car can sort through all of that data and make a decision faster than a human would.
All this sounds impressive, but there are still questions to work out. Between Google and Tesla it has become very clear that self-driving cars are not sci-fi any more. However testing must continue to be done. Tesla had released a first generation auto-pilot feature to its cars. While that feature was only useful for highway driving it did show that it could be used safely and the system was sound. The down side was there were a number of accidents, which leads to questions. Some argue that most of the accidents where the fault of a human, either the driving of the car trying to override the car’s choice or the driver of another car. If this is the case, can man and machine both drive safely on the same road or does one have to go?
When you look at the rate of accidents to the number of cars using even Tesla’s first round of auto-pilot it isn’t truly any worse off than humans driving cars. But now on the edge of self-driving Tesla says there is still testing to be done. So at some point in the future, hopefully after they are fully validated, the car company will be able to unleash this new stage of auto-pilot on to their owners.
While studies have shown at in theory a computer can drive a car safer and more within the actual laws than a human can, will we be able to accept that shift? Is the generation learning to drive now going to be the last one that think of a car needing a steering wheel? Just maybe, and my dad might just get to punch in his destination and have his car drive him there.
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