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Autonomous Vehicles- What to Expect

Posted by: Karthikeyan Natarajan On August 02, 2013 12:00 AM

Innovation is nothing new to the automotive sector. Over the last century, technological advancements in the industry have focused on making vehicles safer, more efficient, and driver-friendly. It’s therefore not surprising that the next generation will see cars that are completely ‘autonomous’.

Picture yourself in a self-driving car that can communicate with other similarly-equipped cars, take orders to drive to a specific location, check road conditions, avoid traffic jams, avert crashes with a built-in crash-warning system, find an empty parking slot, steer into it and park itself, leaving nothing for you to worry about. Sounds like a scene from a sci-fi movie? Well, it may look like a far-fetched idea, but autonomous vehicles are clearly slated to become a viable form of personal mobility.

What would enable this?

The convergence of technologies. Sensor, Communication, and Computing technologies are coming together to enable the creation of smarter and more connected products. Connectivity is becoming the key differentiator across products and industries, and its integration with the automotive sector throws open an enormous number of opportunities to bring comfort, convenience, safety, and efficiency to consumers, creating a unique ‘connected’ experience combined with the brilliance of analytics.

This connectivity in vehicles, when combined with intuitive driver applications for safe driving and health monitoring, user-based insurance, stolen vehicle tracking, breakdown call support, emergency support, and diagnostics, can take transportation to a whole new level. And this capability, brought about through the convergence of technologies, is likely to quicken the entry of autonomous vehicles into the market. 

What to expect?

A number of things. The advent of autonomous vehicles is likely to impact society in many ways. For instance, it may redefine road safety, because these vehicles can easily detect the distance to other upcoming vehicles and send out warnings about a possible collision and even stop the collision from taking place. While these vehicles can take a number of driving tasks out of human hands, it’s important to note the several factors that may shape their future, and the implications of this technology.

Positives

One of the most significant advantages of autonomous vehicles is that they can nearly eliminate the possibility of accidents. They are built with technology that fosters active safety, which can effectively prevent crashes or collisions. In addition to this, autonomous vehicles are believed to have the potential to cut down fuel consumption by about 50% by shortening travel time and improving traffic flow.  Moreover, they can free up driving time and enable car owners to complete other tasks while on the move, or merely enjoy the ride.

But this technology, like any other, doesn’t come free of challenges.

Potential Challenges

While most cars today are already equipped with parking-assistance and navigation systems, a completely autonomous vehicle means one that is totally independent of driver-control. Although this seems to be a very attractive feature, what needs to be considered is whether this technology will get consumer acceptance. Will consumers be ready to totally give up control to an electronic device? Fully accepting autonomous vehicles would therefore call for a complete paradigm shift.

More importantly, for autonomous vehicles to function to the best of their ability, infrastructure changes are essential. Road and highway systems should be equipped to support these vehicles, and this may take a long time to come into effect, consequently affecting the market for these vehicles during the initial stages.

Another major challenge is the cost factor. Autonomous vehicles come with additional expenses which make them less affordable to an average consumer, thus narrowing down its market to a considerable extent. Likewise, car manufacturers also have to spend a greater sum of money to build these vehicles, which again could act as a barrier to their entry into the market.

Other Implications

While autonomous vehicles offer a number of promising possibilities, we cannot ignore some other implications. For instance, who will be liable for these vehicles? Will it be the owners, the manufacturers, or the government? How will these vehicles be regulated? What kind of laws would govern them? These questions require concrete answers.

Also, an undeniable fact is that these vehicles may bring in a certain amount of threat to personal privacy. Autonomous vehicles are built with advanced sensing and tracking capabilities, and are constantly under surveillance, making them traceable at any point in time. While this feature is intended to complement vehicle performance, we cannot overlook the fact that this may create new privacy issues and lend itself to harmful application and commercial misuse.

But despite these obstacles, autonomous vehicles are likely to get widespread consumer acceptance in the coming years because of two reasons: Firstly, the promising technology used in these vehicles has great potential to eliminate the possibility of road accidents. Secondly, these vehicles can enable the elderly and physically challenged to become much more mobile, by offering them a safe and efficient means of transport. While we can be sure that autonomous vehicles will bring about a dramatic transformation in road transport, it will be interesting to see how these vehicles along with other intelligent machines pave the way for an intelligent ecosystem.

Tags: Integrated Engineering
 
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