Self-Driving Cars By 2021
28 Mar 2017
Tesla, Google, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Ford, amongst others, have all declared that they will get fully autonomous cars and trucks on the road in the United States by 2021.
All Teslas produced since October 2016 have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. Eight surround cameras provide 360-degree visibility around the car at up to 250 metres of range. Twelve ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects. A forward-facing radar provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead. Together, this system provides a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses.
It is important to emphasise that before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, the validation and refinement of the software to drive the car will take much longer than putting in place the cameras, radar, sonar and computing hardware. Tesla will calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving to ensure significant improvements to safety and convenience.
Even once the software is highly refined and far better than the average human driver, there will still be a significant time gap, varying widely by jurisdiction, before true self-driving is approved by regulators. Tesla expects that worldwide regulatory approval will require something to the order of 6 billion miles (10 billion km) of testing data. Current fleet learning is happening at just over 3 million miles (5 million km) per day. With data collection and learning accelerating as more cars with self-driving hardware are put on the roads, it will probably take three to four years to collect all the data required for worldwide regulatory approval.
Tesla has released a couple of videos to demonstrate the current self-driving capabilities of its cars. These are very well-worth watching and can be found at the following links:
According to Google, 1.2 million people die on the road each year and in 94% of the cases, the cause is human error. Self-driving cars could eliminate most road related accidents and fatalities. While this would be an amazing benefit for humanity, they could also transform our lifestyles and design our cities, roads and public transport.
When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your self-driving car from just about anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to work, sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination.
Far fewer people will own cars in the future. It will be more cost effective to hail self-driving vehicles on demand in a taxi-like model, with options for group-sharing self-driving shuttles and buses, rather than individuals owning a car that is inert 95% of the time and has expensive maintenance costs.
Even if you do decide to own a self-driving car, you will be able to add your car to a shared fleet just by tapping a button on a phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting your car ownership costs. Since most cars are only in use by their owners for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.
Fewer cars and less idle time also means less parking space will be needed. It also means no more time wasted circling around streets and parking lots to find a space. The car will simply drop you off and go. Ride-sharing has the potential to change the dynamics of our designs for cities, roads and public transport networks.
If the predictions are accurate and self-driving cars are a distinctive part of culture by 2021 then we are on the brink of advances we have never seen before in such a short period of time.