Self-Driving Cars: They’re Just Around the Corner

5 Reasons Driverless Cars Are Coming Faster Than You Think

VW Autonomous Car

1. The Road Toll

Imagine if you woke up to the headline tomorrow "38,000 dead. More to come." You'd be horrified. You'd be demanding that the government do something about it.

Yet that's "just" the number of people killed on American roads last year.

In the five years from 2014, the number of US road fatalities was 181,168. That's over 180,000 lives lost in just five years. Plus even more injured or disabled for life.

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And for each one of those people killed, there are family and friends devastated by the loss of a loved one and first responders traumatized by dealing with horrific scenes of carnage, frequently involving children.

Car Accident

As well as the emotional trauma, the economic cost is in the multi billions of dollars.

And after adjusting for population size, it's the same story the world over. The UK, Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand all have horrendous road tolls.

Where I live in Queensland, Australia a mother with her four young children in the car, pulled out to overtake a truck and hit an oncoming truck head on. All five died.

None of our existing solutions work. Safer cars, higher or lower speed limits, compulsory seat belts, alcohol limits, banning cell phone use and legislation incorporating severe punishments. None of it works. And why? Because the problem is always the driver.

Will Autonomous Cars Fix This?

Yes, absolutely. Not immediately and the journos will be all over any incident involving driverless cars, but as the technology gets better and better, we'll notice a pattern emerging.

There'll be no accidents involving just driverless cars. There will always be a driver involved.

This will be the start of banning drivers from the road. It will start off with restrictions and end up with a total ban.

Will There Be Resistance?

Yes, of course. Every safety measure, from eliminating hand signals to requiring seat belts has met with resistance. In the end, you can't argue with saving 38,000 lives a year and, as soon as it's supported by the majority, the government of the day will pass it into law.

2. Congestion

Traffic Congestion

It would be faster to walk.

How many times have you said that?

Or heard someone else say it?

We've all experienced the frustration of traffic congestion. Where it takes an hour to travel half a mile/half a kilometer and it's just start-stop over and over again.

What are the main causes? There are really only three common ones:

1. An accident up ahead, blocking off one or more lanes.

2. An intersection of two busy roads, with congestion being caused by the inefficiency of traffic having to slow down as it approaches the intersection, wait for the light to change, not move at all during the light change process and then move slowly off after the light change while reacquiring the safety distance (required because of slow human reactions) between each vehicle.

3. Too many cars on the road, driving too slowly. Flow mathematics shows that the faster the traffic moves, the less congestion occurs. But of course in the real world of human drivers, you can't clear congestion by driving faster, because it only works if everyone does it at once. If one person tries it by themselves, it becomes an accident.

Will Autonomous Cars Fix this?

Yes, they will.

They'll get rid of 1 above as a by-product of eliminating accidents. Watch the government claim all the glory after the first accident-free year.

2 above will disappear, along with traffic lights themselves. Instead, traffic will be slotted through intersections at the highest speed possible, without the gaps or wait time required to allow for human reflexes.

3 above will be fixed by computer algorithms that determine the ideal speed for the amount of traffic on the road and then set all vehicles to drive at that speed.

3. Technology

5G Transmission Towers

When the concept of driverless cars was first being bandied about, it looked to be comfortably way off in the future.

Not only were the sensors not good enough to be totally relied on, but the entire infrastructure, including the roads themselves, would require billions of dollars worth of technological upgrade. All this has been turned on its head in just the last couple of years, with enormous technology updates and indeed, brand new technology.

See the towers in the photograph above? They are springing up all over the world. What are they? They are 5G transmission towers and they will deliver internet communications at speeds 800 times faster than what we have now. Each one will beam perfect, ultra-fast and uninterrupted 5G to everywhere, including autonomous vehicles, so that they will instantly have all the up to date information they need.

LIDAR is Light Detection and Ranging and it can make an instant 3-D image of near and far objects. It works much like radar, but instead of sending out radio waves it emits pulses of invisible lasers and measures how long they take to come back after hitting nearby objects. It does this millions of times a second, then compiles the results into a  3-D map in real time, a map so detailed it can be used not just to spot objects but to identify them. Once it can identify objects, the car's computer can predict how they will behave, and thus how it should drive.

Electric Cars are clearly the way of the future with their built-in reliability, silence and absence of pollution.

A company has developed a mixture of concrete and graphene which, when used as a road surface, can allow electric cars to recharge their batteries while driving, eliminating range anxiety

These are just three of the rapidly developing technologies that will nudge autonomous vehicles into our lives sooner rather than later.

4. Investment

Investment in Driverless Car Technology

There are billions of dollars being poured into getting autonomous vehicles onto the road.

This investment is coming from driven individuals like Elon Musk, alongside hard-hitting, experienced companies like Apple, Google and yes, Uber.

It's no secret that Uber sees its future without drivers. Prospective riders will user the Uber app to call for a ride and the nearest available autonomous vehicle will arrive in the shortest possible time and transport the passengers to their destination in the most efficient manner.

In fact, in this scenario there is little point or incentive for individuals to own cars. It will be easier and much more cost efficient to just call up a car whenever you need it. And no forced conversation with a driver. Plus more room for passengers and luggage!

But the point is that these businesses are all looking for return on investment. They have a major stake in making this happen now.

Don't miss my next post Are You Ready for Redundancy?

5. Comfort and Convenience

Driverless Car No Steering Wheel

The popular image of a driverless car has someone sitting in the driver's seat but with their hands off the steering wheel.

And that's probably where it will start. The autonomous gear will be factory fitted to existing vehicles with the facility to switch between autonomous and manual driving.

But, like hybrid vehicles, this will only be an interim measure. Once autonomous becomes the norm, we'll see totally new designs like the one above, with internal seating looking more like a meeting space or a home living room, with the ability to choose different configurations.

With the small size of electric motors and the battery under the floor, there'll be plenty of luggage space too.

Where Does That Leave Rideshare?

Just as the taxi industry was devastated by rideshare, I believe that both will be eliminated by autonomous vehicles.

The only question is when.

And as the title of this article indicated, I think it's just around the corner.

Which is why my next post Are You Ready for Redundancy? may be of vital importance to you.

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Phil Lancaster

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