The future of driving is self-driving cars


Computer cars are just down the road, hopefully going the speed limit

Regan Meloche

Last week, a law was passed granting some important rights  to a class of intelligent, albeit robotic, beings. Self-driving, or robotic cars, are now legal on state roads in California, making it the third state after Nevada and Florida to pass such a law. Using systems like radar, Artificial Intelligence (AI), GPS, and other fancy programming, the self-driving car claims to have all the benefits of a car that drives its own.  Drivers can safely sleep, read, text, or watch movies on their  way to school or work. If a driver had too much to drink, the car can get them home safely. Any accidents caused by human error would be a thing of the past.

The idea of the autonomous car can be traced as far back as the 1939 New York World's fair, where the 'Futurama' exhibit presented designs for an automated highway system. It wasn't until the 80's and 90's that people actually started seeing some serious developments in the field. Companies and agencies were employing precursors to the technology in industries like mining and the military. Many major car companies began experimenting with the idea, and once Google was on board, the pace increased significantly.

Google has outfitted a Toyota Prius, among a handful of other vehicles, with the technology to navigate its way around a city. With Google Street View programmed into it, it has the ability to obey traffic signs, follow speed limits, and park itself.

According to Google, they have completed over 300,000 miles (480,000 km) of successful testing in three states. The new law released last week states that there must be someone in the driver’s seat, and another in the passenger seat with the ability to take control of the car should something go wrong. So far, Google  has said that the only accident that the car is responsible for occurred when a human was in control.

While there is still much testing to do, and many costs to go down, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) predicts that driverless cars will dominate the roadway as early as 2040. As exciting of an idea as this may sound, it may be one of those technologies that develops faster than cities can make rules and regulations for.

What could  be some issues that might need to be addressed?

First , there are people who are understandably concerned about putting their lives in the robotic hands of a computer. Ideally, according the America National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the robotic hand will only shake if and when it is told to do so, whereas  the human hand often  shakes involuntary, leading to part of the 90% or more accidents caused by human error . Google claims that driverless cars will make driving much safer. .

Yet, a thought that should be considered is, while the car may be nearly everything that Google  says it is, and while it may significantly decrease accidents, it is very likely that the car will make any headlines. Yet, as soon as one defective car is involved in a fatal accident, it is very likely that people will be much less reluctant to rely on a computer for getting around. This is the risk in the technology world.

Additionally,  a question that needs to be asked is if it really is possible for the robotic car to take every environmental condition into account. Would it be able to account for the icy roads here in Saskatchewan? Would it have enough reaction time to avoid a deer that might jump out in front of the driver in the middle of the night? Is there a risk of the car being hacked by outside systems?       

Another added risk for the self-driving car becomes hackers. When using any type of technology that can connect a person to the rest of the world, the rest of the world will also be able to connect to that person. Popular Mechanics writer, David Hambling, speculates that cars might be able to be deceived and have their systems scrambled by hackers. With sophisticated technology, hackers may be able to take complete control of the car, even with the driver  inside it.

While these are some serious issues, the advantages of the driverless car out-weigh the risks, and working towards solutions to deal with these issues is, for many, a worthwhile investment. .

On top of the personal benefits that a robotic car may bring, the environmental impacts and changes could be quite beneficial. 

Imagine this: a car that would enable carpooling, driving you to work and dropping you off at the front door,  before it could go pick up or drop off someone else. Taking away the need to park, the technology could clear up some parking spaces that could be transformed into spaces for public use. This could also make for some improvements to public transit systems.

Similarly, the car  can also make life easier for many people who are not typically  allowed to drive, including people who are blind, people with certain disabilities, and even children. The self-driving car would be an effective way for anyone to get from point A to point B, with the push of a button.

If the driverless car gets more and more popular, it may  reshape transportation, transforming roads into communication networks instead. With its benefits and risks, self-driving cars can possibly be the cars of the near future. Perhaps, when we reach this point in time, human beings will have already mastered teleportation, or at the very least, flying cars.

Your weekly dose of science and technology

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DNA in female brain: Canadian researcher, J. Lee Nelson, recently discovered male DNA inside the brains of females. A study of 59 deceased women revealed that 63% of their brains carried some traces of male DNA. This ‘microchimerism’ may be due to the women carrying a male fetus at some point in their lives, but it is interesting to scientists because a blood-brain barrier blocks most foreign substances like these from entering the brain..

Cartography conquest: Apple CEO, Tim Cook, makes an apology to customers for some major errors in the new Apple maps service, even going as far as suggesting they use rival services like Google Maps while they work on the issues. Google Maps goes a step further in introducing underwater maps, which gives users a close-up view of underwater marvels like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Godzillium? Japanese researchers have created an artificial element with 113 protons in the nucleus. While it quickly decayed into lighter particles, they were able to record proof of its existence. There is controversy surrounding the naming rights to the new element, since both American and Russian researchers claim to have detected the element nearly a decade earlier.

One step at a time: The first commercial trip to the International Space Station takes place on October 7. NASA will be using the private company SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule to deliver supplies to the International Space Station  for science experiments. SpaceX also recently successfully tested their reusable ‘grasshopper’ rocket this week.