Where will driverless cars take us?

Where will driverless cars take us?

Currently the autonomy of driverless vehicles is ranked from level 0-5. With 0 meaning that a human driver is in full control of every aspect of the vehicle and level 5 referring to a totally autonomous vehicle. This means no matter the weather, terrain, time of day or even country, a level 5 autonomous vehicle will take you exactly where you want to go.  The advantages of doing away with a need for a driver are astronomical, just think of all that valuable time that will be freed up from daily commutes. Unfortunately, before we can realise the full potential of autonomous vehicles there are a few socio-economic hurdles that need be overcome for there to be total mass adoption. What about all the jobs they will replace? Will we let our machines decide who will die and who gets to live? Who is responsible: the car, the company or the owner?  These are all extremely interesting ideas that need to be debated but they are for another time.

Today I want to explore the idea that these hurdles have been overcome and talk about the potential future of autonomous vehicles. I want to talk about level 6. The current 5 level system is in reference to replacing the capabilities of human drivers. But what will come after that has been achieved? While there are non-autonomous cars on the road I think it is right that the cars are being built to react to their environment. What about when that is no longer the case? It is inevitable there will be the day the last “human driven vehicle” has its last trip on the roads and is gracefully retired to recreational tracks. What next? Rather than have cars react to each other and the environment we could have them communicate. This is when I think autonomous vehicles will really have a vast impact on our society and the way we travel. We will see traffic lights disappear from our streets and inner-city parking can be moved to the outskirts where there is space. Our transport will take on the form of a living and thinking network. I can see a great decrease in the ownership of personal vehicles and a rise in the number of companies offering almost instant on demand autonomous services that will take you from point A to point B. The services will have all the comforts of a private vehicle; with seamless connectivity, you will be able to watch and listen to your favourite streaming services on the dashboard displays while you travel.  I would not be surprised if we were to see the use of public transport decrease too as the cost of a journey start to fall into the same price bracket with autonomous cars offering a far greater level of comfort and convenience.

The question is “what form does the network take on?” One option would be for a centralised entity to control everything, a super computer puppeteer making all of the calculations and decisions. Although this sounds horribly controlling it’s not too far from what we have now with the local councils setting the rules and regulations and choosing the length of traffic light timers. Although it does raise the worrying thought “what happens if someone were to take control of the network?” A more likely alternative is that we will have a hybrid network with the cars “thinking” for themselves while communicating with other nearby cars and infrastructure.

I am a real advocate for driverless cars and quite frankly I cannot wait for their arrival. I think this might have something to do with being from little, old, crowded England where we spend far too much time stuck in traffic and spending outrageous amounts of convenient parking. Nevertheless, I can see the technology be as defining for my generation as the computer was for the last.

Author: Christopher Braithwaite

The founder of TMTalks, Christopher, is based in the United Kingdom and writes for the site in his free time. Particular areas of interest include Space, energy, cyber security and block-chain technology.

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