Self-driving cars: what you need to know

Self-driving cars have been hitting the headlines a great deal recently, here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about this automotive phenomenon.

Self-driving cars are the latest big development in the world of auto technology: here’s what you need to know.

It might sound like something out of an Isaac Asimov novel, but it looks like robot driven cars will be hitting showrooms soon. Ford, the company who were behind the revolutionary Model T back in the 1920’s, have been using robots to test their new transit van.

It’s all well and good using a self-driven car on an empty testing site, but how will self-driving technology take to the busy roads of New York? Here’s what you need to know.

How does it work?

Built in cameras, sensors, and GPS send signals to the computer which then understands whether to slow down, speed up, or brake to avoid collisions. Google launched a range of self-driving cars back in 2010, although they faced a few road blocks when it came to testing on the roads: it took over a year to get a license.

Google managed to prove their mettle when 95% blind Steve Mahan got behind the wheel and drove the car to pick up his lunch and laundry. If this technology becomes widely available, it could be revolutionary for people with sight impairments.

What does it mean for the average person?

Having a self-driving car will make life a lot easier. Not just because you’ll be able to relax a lot more while on the road, but because it will take the stress out of driving. For example Volvo are currently developing a programme that will let your car find a space and park itself while you hop out and get on with your day. Bad news for valets, but great news for you.

Michael Toscano, CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, also believes that self-driving cars will mean fewer accidents: Toscano believes that eliminating the driver could mean 80% less deaths on the road.

Of course, the cars would need to be maintained like any other car, whether that’s window glass replacement if it gets damaged or scheduling an annual safety inspection.

The cost of maintaining a car might not be a concern in the future, however. Forbes have speculated that in 30 years time there will be a ‘transportation cloud’: no one will need to own a vehicle anymore. Instead, people will simply press a button to summon a self-driving vehicles to take them to their destination.

Will it mean any new laws?

Self-driving cars are smart enough to get from A to B without any human input, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the laws will change. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is already proposing rules and regulations that will apply once self-driving vehicles become more popular.

Although Forbes speculates that in 25 years, five-year-olds and intoxicated people will be able to behind the wheel, NHTSA are actually proposing stricter regulations. They say that people who wish to drive a robot car should have a special driving license that involves training on when to take over the vehicle in an emergency.

They are also recommending that state governments should avoid making the cars legal, unless it’s for testing, until we know a little bit more about how safe self-driving cars are. 

The technology is still in the early stages, but car manufacturers are optimistic that we could see self-driving cars within the next seven years. 

Would you ever buy a self-driving car?

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