Autonomous Cars

January 8, 2023

How far away do you think we are from the future of autonomous driving when most of the cars on the road will be self-driving, and drivers will feel welcome to relax and set their minds to something else (as long as they stay behind the wheel)? Would you guess 50, 75, or maybe 100 years? Or 10, 15, 20? What if we told you it’s even sooner than that? Would you believe the future of autonomous driving could even be… today?

Well, pretty close, at least. If not today, tomorrow for sure. But which one is it?

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Before answering that question, did you know that the average American spends about 55 minutes commuting to and from work? Wouldn’t it be nice to get that time back? Would that time be better served preparing for the day, eating breakfast, or relaxing on social media while going to the store? Well, automated vehicles offer that promise. Motorized cars can handle the driving for you while you do practically whatever you want.

What Is An Automated (aka Autonomous) Car, Anyway?

An automated car- sometimes called “autonomous vehicle,” which means something a bit different, but we’ll get to that- are self-driving vehicles that don’t truly drive itself. At least, not yet. Instead, they have complex computer systems that take precise constant measurements of road conditions using multiple sensors that form a synthetic “neural network.” By capturing so much information and reviewing it with powerful central processors, automated vehicles can make some decisions far faster than a human can. Of course, machine learning systems are necessary to process so much data, and powerful computer components are needed to power the hardware. Nevertheless, they make for versatile and efficient machines that can make a driver’s life much easier and safer.

The Levels of Vehicle Autonomy

Not all self-driving cars are built alike. Many levels of “vehicle autonomy” can be installed to assist drivers, but at this time, most use only level 2: Partial Automation. We’ll explain partial automation in a moment, along with the difference between “Autonomous” and “Automated,” but let’s start with the first level of vehicle autonomy:

LEVEL 0 – NO AUTOMATION

This one’s fairly self-explanatory (pun intended). Like the car you likely drove today, non-automated vehicles do not conduct themselves or offer assistance features like hazard detection.

LEVEL 1 – DRIVER ASSISTANCE

Most cars today offer a simple form of automation: cruise control. It may not be much, but anyone on a long drive knows the value of even this simple feature. Once enabled, the car will maintain its speed- and thus its distance, too- so you can focus on the road more. This is simple automation, but automation nonetheless.

LEVEL 2 – PARTIAL AUTOMATION

Partial automation is when we get into the real stuff, including advanced driver assistance systems that monitor the road for hazards and react faster than humans. But, of course, a driver is always behind the wheel, even with partial automation. Most new cars today offer partial-automated safety systems and fall into this vehicle automation class. As a fringe benefit, these vehicles often reduce auto insurance premiums for what it’s worth (money).

LEVEL 3 – CONDITIONAL AUTOMATION

Now we’re getting futuristic. Conditional automation takes control from the human driver under certain conditions, like road hazards or slow traffic. When criteria are met, a self-driving truck may speed up or even change lanes, but not always because something terrible is happening. Sometimes these features offer increased efficiency that isn’t easily perceptible but add up over the long term, especially under long-haul trucking conditions. Again, however, human intervention is always in play even if relevant needs are met. Still, the driver keeps controlling most of the time.

LEVEL 4 – HIGH AUTOMATION

These are actual self-driving vehicles, like the self-driving cars companies Alphabet (Google) and Tesla keep promising for the future. They are already on the road and traveling the countryside as we speak, albeit with human drivers behind the wheel at all times to intervene if anything happens. These types of self-driving vehicles typically drive themselves, including under normal and hazardous conditions, changing lanes, and speeding as they see fit. But again, always with a human behind the wheel.

LEVEL 5 – FULL AUTOMATION

Fully automated self-driving cars are driverless cars. Robot cars. They don’t need people and likely won’t have them or even have room for people to be inside. Why waste space when that could be used for storage? Fully automated vehicles- aka “drones”- will likely still have remote operators and other safety features to prevent problems. Still, they may not even have a standard driver or passengers. Companies like Amazon and Domino already use fully-automated vehicles, though they aren’t road-based cars. They’re drones. And one day, those drones will be on roads, too.

LEVEL X – AUTONOMOUS CAR

 

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We often call them autonomous vehicles, but technically they’re “automated” vehicles. While an “automated” car is a car with artificial intelligence, an “autonomous” car is a sentient car that can think, feel emotions, and make its own decisions. Maybe it gives you directions, t helps fix your relationship with your estranged brother, or enables you to fight crime, not unlike Knight Rider or even The Transformers. Perhaps like Transformers, even autonomous cars could still have people inside, but they’ll probably want to get out before any transforming happens…

Who Currently Makes Autonomous Vehicles?

Perhaps the most popular automated driver currently on the market is the Autopilot feature offered in vehicles manufactured by Tesla. Although far from perfect, they’ve probably had the broadest real-world use. Many people have already had the opportunity to try Tesla’s automated driving offerings, and many have already been caught doing stupid things like falling asleep inside them. While this is undoubtedly ill-advised today, ironically, it is nonetheless the end goal, after all, to be able to leave a vehicle unattended. At the same time, it drives us automatically to our destination even if we’re asleep.

Other companies building automated driving into their vehicles include Mercedes, Nissan, and BMW. Then there are third parties that offer AI-assisted driving platforms to be installed into original equipment manufacturers’ (OEM’s) vehicles or even consumer vehicles. These companies and their products include Aurora’s Driver, Cruise’s Origin, and Alphabet’s Waymo; Alphabet is Google’s parent company.

Meanwhile, companies outside of auto manufacturers are offering autonomous vehicle services that meet specific consumer needs. These include Uber’s self-driving passenger transport vehicles and Domino’s self-driving pizza delivery car. Add in the trucking and distribution industry’s inevitable turn towards automation, and it seems automated driving taking over the roads is unavoidable. Morgan Stanley predicts that commercial autonomous vehicles may be available from OEM dealers in as little as five years.

BUT CAN WE TRUST ROBOT CARS?

While many people are rightfully concerned about the reliability of automated and driverless vehicles, studies show that they’re much safer than their human counterparts. 94% of accidents are due to human error, says NHTSA.gov. Removing the human element from the whole may reduce accidents by such a degree as reasonably astonishing. Even if we reduce that number by only a quarter, that would significantly reduce fatalities and injuries relative to manually operated automobiles.

Nonetheless, there are some reasonable concerns about automated vehicles from a technological standpoint. For example, with so many self-driving cars on the road throwing their invisible lasers and radiowaves around, it’s plausible that conflicting LIDAR and Radar signals could cause trouble. Additionally, external factors like weather conditions, accidents, and poor maintenance will affect sensors in some way. Then, traffic conditions and regional laws add yet another layer for computers to process on the fly, adding to their complexity and thus increasing the possibility of failure. On top of that, no one’s still sure how to handle liability insurance when it comes to automated vehicles. For example, who is at fault when a robot causes an accident?

Finally, there are other serious security concerns. All computers can be hacked, controlled, damaged, ransomed, is maliciously manipulated. I doubt anyone will repurchase a computer car after their first one drives away from them at the supermarket, all the while doing burnouts and honking like it’s Need for Speed. So a profound regulatory framework will be necessary before mass adoption is a real possibility. Still, legislators are already doing what little work they do to get this framework set out… eventually.

So Is The Future Today, or Is The Future Tomorrow?

You may not know anyone yet who’s using automated vehicle technology akin to what you might see in a sci-fi movie, but it’s only a matter of time and probably just a few years. When you have a chance, will you get into an automated vehicle and let it drive you home after work? What if it’s autonomous and tells you fun jokes and helps your kids with their math homework and such? There are many benefits to automated driving that are yet to be appreciated by the public. Still, if you look, you can find many examples of vehicles today that already use automated driving technology to improve daily driving.

So we say, what appears to be the future-tomorrow of automated driving, is the future-today.


What are your thoughts on AI vehicles and automated driverless trucks and cars? Do you like the idea of a robot driving you home drunk from the bar, or should they keep the robots off our streets? Autonomous Car Repair Near me in Chico, Ca.

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Buddy Rausch
Buddy Rausch

Buddy started his auto career journey at Butte College and started his own auto repair company in 2007. Since then he has worked on countless cars, diagnosing, repairing, and replacing worn, faulty, and broken parts.

After a few years, he moved to a bigger shop to accommodate his growth and to better serve the Chico, CA community. It’s a family-owned & operated business.

Outside of work Buddy enjoys spending time with his family and playing softball is one of his many passions.

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