When envisioning the future, many think that advances in transportation will involve self-driving cars. Companies like Google and Uber have invested a lot of time and money in the aspiration of having a safe and functional driverless car on the road. There are many issues that face the future of self-driving cars.
Currently, self-driving cars like those from Google can only operate under certain conditions. Sunny days and smooth, paved roads that have been mapped with extreme details are the safest for their driverless vehicles. Given that a large portion of the roads in the United States are either plagued with manholes or not completely paved, the outlook for self-driving cars becoming the new normal looks bleak. Construction also creates a hazard for driverless vehicles. If there are any lane closures, new stop signs, reduced speeds, or other changes prevalent at construction zones, the car’s cameras and sensors cannot update its route fast enough to adjust for the changes.
In order to improve road conditions, many layers of government including state, local, and federal would not only have to agree on funding sources but also on new policies regarding driverless vehicles. In addition, the installation of technology improvements like fiber-optic cables that allow infrastructure-to-vehicle communication is needed to help ease the transition to driverless cars. The cities may be the first to have more self-driving cars on the roads since their governments are more flexible and have a stronger desire to put driverless vehicles on their roadways. Why else isn’t the United States ready for self-driving cars?
15. Any Change In Weather Can Be Dangerous
It is no mystery why most self-driving car companies have been operating out of states known for their beautiful weather. On a sunny day, self-driving cars like the one Google is currently developing appear to operate just fine. However, it has yet to be tested during snow and tests during heavy rains indicated some safety concerns. It is unknown how the car will react to slippery roads or be able to determine lane lines when they are covered in snow. For those fortunate to be in a state with good weather, self-driving cars could be coming soon but not in the way one might think. The city of Tempe, Arizona has been testing out driverless cars through the ride-hailing app Uber. The car can operate driverless but all trips currently include two engineers in the front seat as safety drivers just in case the need for human control arises. At that point, what is even the point of having a self-driving car?
14. They Can’t Detect Potholes
While you may hate potholes because of the potential damage they can do to your car or yourself if you spill your coffee everywhere while flying over them, at least you can try to slow down or avoid them if needed. Unfortunately, if there are no cones zoning off the area, self-driving cars cannot yet detect potholes or uncovered manholes. This would prove to be very troublesome in cities like New Orleans or Oklahoma City where potholes are prevalent on the roads. Engineers have not made it not clear as to whether or not increased censors on the cars can help improve this problem. The easiest solution would be to have roads with better pavement but that does not appear to be happening anytime soon. Another requirement could be to have all holes surrounded by cones but that would be quite the task to undertake.
13. There Are Still Many Unexplored Roads The Cars Can’t Navigate
Since driverless cars do not have a human brain operating them, they rely heavily on the information provided to them. Google, in particular, uses information collected from scanner cars to create the routes that its cars will drive. These scanner cars, driven by humans, have meticulously collected and analyzed the roads in an effort to help prepare the driverless car for not only the direction it will take but any obstacles that it might run into along the way. The amount of detail is Google Maps Street View but times one thousand. Before Google send their cars out for a test drive the routes have been looked at multiple times by both humans and computers. Unfortunately, this process takes a lot of time and effort and means that many roads have not been analyzed yet. While the number of roads will increase, as of now there are not enough to make self-driving cars that can get up and go wherever a reality yet.
12. It Is Not Capable To Handle Unmapped Stop Signs Or Four-Way Stop Signs
If you are a good driver, then you stop at an every stop sign you see. You would stop regardless of whether or not the stop sign was on the map or if it was just erected that morning. While Google released a feature that would allow the car to detect and obey an unmapped stop sign, it cannot yet handle more complex situations like an unmapped four-way stop sign. However, according to Google, since the car is always on the lookout for traffic, in this situation it would slow down and remain extra cautious when crossing the intersections in order to avoid making a mistake. This would then allow for the vehicle to remain safe even if an unmapped stop sign pops up. What is unclear is how a police officer would react if the car ran a stop sign if there is no driver to blame.
11. Parking Lots Would Be Disastrous
Cars cannot be on the road forever. At some point, they have to be put to rest and parked. Today there are cars that assist with parallel parking. Cars like the Ford Focus or Toyota Prius have automatic parking systems that basically park the car themselves. This is a great stride towards self-driving cars being able to handle parking. However, the technology has not advanced enough so that cars can handle open parking lots or multilevel garages. This would prove troublesome in many cities that do not offer a lot of street parking. The reason is that the car’s cameras cannot yet detect the lines on an open lot. Whereas when parallel parking, the car can detect the car in front and behind as well as the curb. Then it can calculate using an algorithm to properly park the car. This still needs to be developed for multilevel garages and open lots.
10. Driverless Cars Can’t Deal With Construction Detours Or Other Changes
If you have ever driven in America then you have more than likely driven by a construction site on the road. It seems to be that just about every place is doing something to fix the roads. Sometimes the only effect the construction has to the road is a reduced speed for drivers, but other times it can involve a complete change to the traffic pattern. For human drivers, slowing down and obeying updated traffic patterns is easily done. However, the technology for a driverless car to recognize the changes caused by construction is not quite advanced enough. According to Google, their car would detect an unmapped stop sign. So it is possible that the car would slow down and be extra cautious in a construction zone but the car would not be able to react to lane closures, detours, temporary signs, updated speed limits, and other unexpected changes to the road.
9. It Would Not Be Able To Differentiate Between Pedestrians And Random Objects
One major problem facing engineers is developing technology to allow for the detection of humans in the road. Currently, the car registers a person as just a moving object. The car would recognize the person as a foreign object and stop, which is good for the safety of the pedestrian if they are just walking around. If that person was trying to assist the flow of traffic, the car would not be able to obey directions. This is a major problem since the car would not be able to tell if a police officer is in the middle of the road waving for traffic to stop or directing it in another direction. It would also prove troublesome in a construction site if a worker is holding a stop sign or directing traffic. The car would also no be able to differentiate the difference between a person and another object, so if an accident occurred it would not be able to decide to swerve into the pole rather than a person.
8. They Might Make Traffic Even Worse
Residents of traffic-ridden cities like Los Angeles and New York will not get any relief from congestion with the introduction of driverless vehicles. With or without a driver, cars take up space on the roads. Not having a driver behind the wheel will do nothing to improve the amount of traffic. The car would also still require a parking space, which in some cities is already nearly impossible at times. Fewer drivers do not mean fewer cars, unless the technology is used to create driverless buses for public transportation. In fact, without the requirement of a licensed driver, the more popular that driverless cars get, more cars could potentially be on the road. This not only poses problems when it comes to traffic but also environmental issues. Engineers are so focused on getting the technology right to make the cars safe that they are not focusing on making the car more sustainable.
7. Ambulance Sirens Would Not Affect The Car At All
Currently, the self-driving cars out there cannot differentiate between objects on the road. It does not know if the obstacle in the road is a rock or a piece of paper. The car will treat all objects the same and try to drive around them regardless if it is necessary or not. Another situation that would prove troublesome for a driverless car is an extremely sunny day. If the sun is too bright behind the traffic light then the vehicle would not be able to determine what color the light is due to the glare. Emergency vehicles also create an obstacle for a car without a driver. Since the sirens are designed for human reaction, a car without a driver is not get savvy enough to react properly. This type of complex situation, where other cars on the road are changing their driving and there is a new object in the road, is an example of why the US is not ready for self-driving cars.
6. The US Has Many Dangerous Gravel Roads
In Michigan, only half of its 122,000 miles of roads are paved. The rest of them are all gravel. While this is fine during the few months of warm weather, during the long, cold winter these roads become much more treacherous to navigate. This would be especially troublesome for driverless cars, considering that most of them have yet to even be tested in the snow let alone in the snow on a gravel road. The main issue is that this problem is not just prevalent in Michigan. In fact, a lot of the United States has many unpaved roads. Sometimes, even those that are paved are not in the best of shape these days. The fact of the matter is that if self-driving cars are going to be successful in the United States, then many layers of government are going to have to come together to improve the roadways.
5. The Government Has No Clue How To Make This Actually Happen
One large obstacle for the introduction of driverless cars in the US is the lack of national vision from policymakers. During his fall campaign, the president proposed spending of $1 trillion on infrastructure improvements. However, there have been no indications as to where those funds would come from or if they would be allocated to infrastructure updates that would help improve the roads for self-driving cars specifically. The main challenge is that the roads in some states are in such disrepair that they need to be fixed for regular cars to better operate on, let alone self-driving ones. Since funding for simple repairs seems to be a problem, who knows when or how technological advances like adding fiber-optic lines to the roads will happen. It seems like the improvements are going to have to come either from the state-level or from the private sector since there is no current national vision for the transition to driverless vehicles.
4. Several Levels Of Government Need To Cooperate And That Is Unlikely
Driverless cars will most likely be seen in the cities before they make it onto the highways due to public policy. Both fundings for infrastructure improvements and laws governing self-driving cars will need to be addressed by local, state, and federal governments. Typically, local governments are a little more flexible and faster to act when it comes to policy changes. Cities like San Francisco and Phoenix have already begun to allow the testing of robotic taxis on their streets. Unlike city streets, since the highways cross states, it is a bit more complicated. The safety rules and operations of interstate highways are governed by a complex set of state and federal laws. Given the current state of affairs in the United States, it is unlikely that updates to laws for the use of driverless cars are at the top of the list for policymakers.
3. Driverless Cars Require Many Infrastructure Improvements
The improvements necessary to make self-driving cars successful in the United States are two-fold. On one hand, the roads need to be repaved so that they are smooth and free of any potholes. On the other hand, the roads need to be outfitted with updated technology to best assist driverless cars. Some states are already getting a jump on advancing their roads. For example, Tennessee has been installing fiber-optic lines in the roads. These lines can send warnings to the cars about the road ahead, including any potential hazards. This system would also allow the car to alert other cars on the road of their position to help avoid any potential collisions. In Palo Alto, there are 11 intersections outfitted with technology that can communicate with the cars. These sensors can do things like telling the cars what speed they need to go to make every green light.
2. Car-To-Car Communication Is Necessary But Unlikely
In addition to the roads and various infrastructure improvements that will be needed from the government, there is a lot that the private car companies will need to accomplish as well. In order to have a safe roadway, driverless cars will need to communicate with each other. Car-to-car communication will be essential to avoiding collisions. In addition, if cars can alert others of road obstacles, construction, or any other hazards ahead, then that car can be more adequately prepared for the road ahead. Some companies like Cadillac have begun to implement vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology in their cars. If there are only a few cars on the road that can talk to each other, then this technology is useless. The main roadblock will be getting the various car companies to create technology that transcends brands and allows all makes and models of driverless cars to effectively communicate.
1. Car Purchasing Trends
There are few greater gifts than that of a first car. If you are a lucky teenager then you were fortunate to get a brand new car. Those less fortunate received a hand-me-down car from a parent or relative. Either way, it’s more than likely that car has been held onto or will be held onto for years to come. Most Americans only purchase a car about every eight years. This would mean that someone would not only need to be convinced to buy a new car earlier than usual but also that a self-driving car would be the route to go. In order for this to happen, self-driving cars need to be more functional and affordable. Currently, driverless cars can only operate in certain areas and under perfect conditions. At this time it does not appear that self-driving cars are not set up to be purchased by the masses yet.
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