Autonomous, self-driving or autopilot - no matter how you look at it, the future of the automotive industry is technology. By reducing the need for human control and interaction, vehicles increase safety. But are we there yet?
Experts, lawmakers and consumers are all curious about automated vehicles. One of the most pressing questions raised is whether or not autopilot features will pose road hazards. Automating a complex activity like driving requires a great deal of planning, execution and narrowing down variables. Automakers are making headway in their efforts, but reports suggest that autopilot features still need some work.
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, autopilot or self-driving vehicles still have limitations that could make them a hazard. These include:
· Cameras can't respond accurately in low-angle sunlight
· Lasers are easily confused by snowfall and fog
· Unfamiliar situations like road work, accidents or emergency vehicles are difficult for sensors to classify
· Self-driving technology has not mastered the ability to interpret human cues from the driver, such as eye contact and gestures
It is somewhat "easy" to automate and program technology to respond to known, structured environments. But on the road, there are many occasions where the unexpected happens - changes in weather conditions, wildlife, traffic congestion or vehicle malfunctions. There is no way for automakers to predict or foresee every possibility. Therefore, there is no way to program self-driving cars to anticipate or recognize them.
What automakers can do, however, is test the technology in real-life situations so that the technology can, essentially, learn. Once the technology experiences something, recognizes and understands it, the technology can be fixed to match.
But, in order to expose the technology to real-life situations, a human driver is required. This presents safety issues of its own, as drivers who rely on autopilot features tend to "zone out." The may also become more easily distracted believing the vehicle will alert them of a problem. When an unexpected event happens, the driver may not react in time to prevent a dangerous crash.