Autonomy. The freedom from external control or influence; independence.
Who reading this enjoys being autonomous? I do. To me autonomy instills a sense of trust. However, in the case of technological advances, autonomy perhaps is starting to mean we (the humans) are being trusted less, and they (the computers) are being trusted more.
A case in point: The autonomous car. Over the last couple of years, most of us will have been following the gradual improvements of the Google Self-Driving Car Project and the continuing evolution of the Tesla’s software autopilot updates. The autonomy of driving is growing. The autonomous car, also known the driverless car, the self-driving car, or the robotic car, is coming.
So how does it all work? Autonomous vehicles detect surroundings using radar, lidar (this is a surveying technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser light – I had no idea), GPS, Odometry (this is the use of data from motion sensors to estimate change in position over time – again never heard of this), and computer vision (this is a field that includes methods for acquiring, processing, analyzing, and understanding images and, in general, high-dimensional data from the real world in order to produce numerical or symbolic information – yikes!). These advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage i.e. a very clever computer gets you from A to B.
So who is leading the race in driverless car technology? Chinese companies are taking big strides competing with the likes of Google and Tesla, such as:
/ Changan: Two driverless cars drove more than 2,000km (1,240 miles) from its headquarters to Beijing using cameras and radar to complete the trip in six days – the car firm says it was able to do research on lane-keeping and changing, traffic sign recognition, automatic cruising and voice control.
/ Baidu and BMW: A cooperation between Chinese tech giant Baidu and German car maker BMW saw a driverless car drive 30km through Beijing traffic, managing a range of manoeuvres, including U-turns, lane changes and merging into traffic from ramps.
/ Geely and Volvo: Chinese owned Swedish car maker Volvo says it plans to test 100 driverless cars on public roads in “everyday conditions”. It is thought to be a significant move to establish the Sino-Swedish team at the forefront of development. Volvo is also testing driverless cars in Sweden and the UK.
In Australia, the government’s newly announced Smart Cities Plan name-checks the “sharing economy” and hints at a vision of the future where Australia’s major cities are dragging kicking and screaming into the 21st century with ride-sharing services like Uber and GoGet, and the proliferation of autonomous vehicles. Driverless cars, are mentioned in the plan’s early agenda. It hedges its bets on when we’ll see actual driverless cars, but the quick development of semi-autonomous features in cars are already apparently having positive impacts on driver safety, and also open the door to cities where localised car parking is not necessary and vehicles can be accessed remotely.
This means, theoretically, no accidents since no human errors involved, no more driving mistakes and carelessness like sudden lane changing or over-under steering, no more stress on drivers to find optimum route to beat the traffic, no more fines for over speeding, no more poor reflexes and no more distractions for the driver. In fact it means, no more drivers required! Imagine using the hours stuck in traffic utilized for something useful and productive.
Yes, practically, there may be some issues in this system when dealing with difficult on road conditions, like snowfall or torrential rain, the car mapping environment may not be accurate which may result in unpredictable actions. We don’t want that! Also, there is a serious concern if an accident takes place with a cyclist or pedestrian or an ‘old fashioned petrol car’. Who takes the blame?
Is it an old-fashioned sort of science fiction: this year’s model of last century’s make? Does it belongs to the gleaming, chrome-plated age of jet packs and rocket ships, transporter beams and cities beneath the sea, of a predicted future still well beyond our technology. Perhaps not.
So how long will it be normal to have an autonomous car pulling up next to you at the traffic light? Although the race is on, the general consensus seems to be that we are still a decade away from that. However, just think of the many driver assisted technologies that already exist. Cars help you stay in a lane, parallel park themselves or detect when they should brake.
Me, well I don’t drive that much (my lovely wife does most of the family driving) so the inevitable prospect of the ‘autonomy’ of being driven somewhere without actually driving appeals.
What do you think?
Thanks for reading.
I have referenced from the following articles: