Modern age is the age of technology and innovation. Rapid advances in technology have made it possible for humans to make their work easier and faster in many ways. Scientists and technologists are always busy in working to innovate and improve new technology products to facilitate and make human life easier not only to save time and effort but also to ensure safety. Driverless car is one out of many such innovations intended to help human beings in their daily life. Work on car automation started as early as in 1920s. More encouraging results in this development were seen in 1950s, which encouraged the scientists to keep working and first truly automatic cars were seen in 1980s (“History of autonomous car,” n.d.). However, According to Marks (2012), meaningful developments in driverless cars were exhibited by US Defence Advance Research Project Agency (ARPA) by organizing competitions of such cars in desserts in 2004 and 2005 and in urban area in 2007. Many research organizations are involved in the development of driverless cars, however, Google is far ahead of others in its research on this particular technology (Mui, 2015).
The purpose of this article is to review current literature on driverless cars to give a general introduction of driverless cars, discuss the recent advances in this technology, and main features of driverless cars. Then the article will explain the benefits of driverless cars. In addition, the article will also discuss the legal, ethical, and social issues related to driverless cars. At the end, the article will analyze the security issues related to driverless cars and will discuss the hurdles, which make it difficult to fully develop this technology.
Driverless cars are standard passenger cars with additional capabilities of replacing the driver by an intelligent autonomous system to run the car. In such cars, GPS receivers and mapping technology are installed to navigate paths and destinations. Radar system is used to detect obstacles that the driverless car may encounter. A laser ranging system scans the outside environment in three dimensions. The car also comes with a video camera to identify various objects like signs, lights, humans, and other cars. The system of the car uses all the information to decide the behavior of the car in a particular situation (Waldrop, 2015). Thus, driverless cars are capable of performing all the functions of a human driver through automatic processing units.
Despite the rapid developments and technological advances in the accuracy and reliability of driverless cars, they are still not in common use and have not been presented for public transport yet. All the carmakers have been in a race, busy in testing their prototypes for quick delivery into the markets. Google has been ahead of all in this race. By 2013, Google car completed around 200,000 miles of accident free driverless test drives (Poczter & Jankovic, 2013). According to Mui (2015), more than 20 Google driverless cars have completed test drives of more than 1.7 million miles out of which around one million miles test drives were in driverless mode. To speed up entry in to the market, Google is driving its autonomous cars around 10,000 miles per week in real environments, without controlled environments. Google is also doing simulated driving of its driverless cars for around 3 million miles a day. It is expected that Google’s driverless cars will soon be into the market for public use.
Benefits of Driverless Cars
Driverless cars bring many advantages to human beings over the traditional cars. Google aimed at changing the car technology to bring about driverless cars into the market in order to reduce number of road accidents, save people’s time, as well as carbon emissions. According to Poczter and Jankovic (2013), 10.8 million accidents per year happen only in USA. These accidents not only cause more than 36000 deaths but also around $300 billion costs annually. One major benefit of driverless cars is that they are programmable and they don’t possess unpredictable behavior like humans do. The high customizability of the program of the car, these can be easily adjusted to follow local traffic laws, and obstacles that it encounters. For example, Google’s car is programmed to follow traffic rules and signs and responds to signs and obstacles faster than humans can do to help avoid accidents and thus save lives. The inches forward feature of Google Car is very efficient to indicate to other vehicles about its intentions at crossings and intersections (Poczter & Jankovic, 2013). These features make driverless car safer than traditional cars. Google cars estimate to be able to not only save 30,000 lives but also $2.7 billions of cost and more than 2 million injuries. Poczter and Jankovic (2013) cites Bureau of Transportation 2009 statistics that Google car can reduce the average commuting time of Americans from fifty two to only five minutes daily. The suggested approach is that being intelligent, autonomous cars can drive close to each other with less errors and hence can efficiently utilize road space on freeways. In addition, to saving on commuting time, driverless cars can avoid congestion thus saving 4.8 billion hours and 1.9 billion gallons of fuel annually (US Energy Information Administration, 2012) as cited by (Poczter & Jankovic, 2013). Driverless cars make carpooling an easy and realistic option due to its technological capabilities. These cars are also capable of self-parking and retrieving thus saving time in these activities. The intelligent map techniques and more interaction with centralized systems can also help not only to detect or forecast congestion routes but also to select and use shortest routes between destinations thus reducing fuel consumption even more. All the car-sharing and optimized route selection is estimated to cut the gas consumption by 80 percent. This will not only reduce the number of self-owned cars on the road but will also help save energy to meet more demands in future thus adding to the economy of the country (Burns et al., 2013) as cited by (Poczter & Jankovic, 2013).
It is important to discuss the security concerns of driverless cars. Being technologically advanced and intelligent, driverless cars are secure and offer safe rides as compared to traditional cars and makers are working on safety measures to make it even more safe. Urmson (2015) explains that Google’s driverless cars encountered 11 minor accidents without any injury during their 1.7 million miles drives. However, an encouraging fact is that all these accidents were rear-end crashes and side-swipes due to the fault of human drivers driving traditional cars. Google is working on to avoid incidents even due to the others’ faults. Driverless cars often faced accidents due to other people not paying attention to driving or breaking the traffic rules on signals and crossings. Google is working on the learn from experiences and working on typical driving behaviors in order to incorporate safety measures into its driverless cars.
Ethical, Legal & Social Implications
The innovation of driverless cars especially the Google’s car brings several social and ethical implications. There are certain legal and ethical implications, which need to be taken in account when it comes to driverless cars (Goodall, 2012) . Driverless cars are programmed to prioritize the safety of the occupants and in case of some accident scenario it may harm a pedestrian or a human driver in order to save the occupants. This is against the ethical standards and is an issue to be taken care of. Another ethical consideration is that in case of harm due to driverless car, who will be accused; the car owner, the car itself or the manufacturer? Poczter & Jankovic (2013) point out a very important ethical and social issue regarding the development and use of driverless cars in transport system. The use of such cars will not only reduce the revenues of gasoline businesses but it will also reduce jobs and increase unemployment among the existing transport system. This is a very serious social and ethical issue of consideration.
The speed of development in driverless cars seems to change the future of transportation dramatically. As discussed at various points, these cars seem to occupy a greater value in transport sector in future and will be used to revolutionize the very roots of transport system.
Driverless cars are no doubt the hottest innovation of the technological age. The many advantages in terms of economy, safety, time saving, and security make it the innovation to be further enhanced and brought into the transport system as soon as possible so that society can benefit from it. However, the legal, social, and ethical considerations again make it very challenging task. Therefore, it is concluded that the car-makers work out each and every bit of possible enhancement in the development of these cars while keeping all the ethical and social considerations to make full benefit of this technology. Overall, the advantages of these cars are more than its disadvantages or limitations. Hence, these cars must be launched to save time, money, and lives of people as well as huge amounts of energy to add to the economy. These cars can bring prosperity into the major part of any country where they are deployed. However, steps must be taken to consider the issues of the community that will have to suffer its consequences.