6 Problems Facing Driverless Cars

A staple of science fiction, autonomous cars are often the most visible technology of imagined futures. But unlike lightsabers and teleportation, the autonomous vehicles is close to becoming a reality. With tech giants Google already having made great strides in developing prototype cars – which are currently being tested on roads across the USA – car manufacturers have also begun pushing for an autonomous revolution.
But before that can happen, there’s a number of major hurdles that developers and governments will need to overcome before driverless cars make it to your local dealership. This infographic, brought to you by ClickMechanic, explains what these roadblocks are.





6 Problems Driverless Cars Will Need To Overcome

Self Driving cars will make stressful commutes a thing of the past, allowing passengers to relax or even take a nap.

But if the technology exists, then why are they taking so long?


The problems facing autonomous vehicle

So what’s keeping self-driving cars off the road, and how close are the solutions


1. Human interaction

Autonomous cars struggle to recognise humans alongside the vehicle or walking in front of it.

Pedestrians, cyclists and construction workers in the road could be put at risk of collision.

Example: Lets say an autonomous car was travelling along a road:

1. A police officer is stood by the roadside signalling for traffic to stop

2. The car fails to recognise him

3. It carries on driving and causes an accident


When will this be solved?

Unknown: testing human/ robot interaction properly is difficult due to limited interactions. Developers still need to solve the autonomous cars difficulty in recognising pedestrian hazards and small animals


2. The Weather

Poor weather leaves most automated vision-systems in the dark and unable to see. Snow and ice are untested hazards for self-driving cars, and vehicle performance is uncertain

It’s unknown how autonomous cars will handle: 

1. Avoiding ice

2. Detecting lanes under snow

3. Driving in wet conditions

The car might well detect snow as an obstruction and refuse to move


When will this be solved?

2020: By this time, $20 billion will have been spent on adding sensors to smart cities. Increasing the number of embedded sensors in the environment to guide the car- and including more sensors in the vehicle themselves – could solve the problem.


3. Morality and ethics

The law and ethics can conflict with one another in dangerous situations – the right choice might require illegal acts. Legalist safety directives could lead autonomous cars to make poor decisions in emergencies.

Example: It’s unknown how autonomous cars will handle choosing between an emergency stop which would cause a fatal collision to those behind or carrying on and running down a child. What choice would the car make?


When will this be solved?

Unknown: Robot ethics is still in its formative stages, and focuses primarily on military drones. As autonomous cars get closer to our roads, the ethical question will also gain more coverage


4. The Law

Safety testing must be completed outside the R&D environment in a statistically significant way. Legal theorists will need to account for the new problems raised by autonomous cars.

Suppose the car detects the child a child suddenly appearing in its path, the car performs an emergency stop, the child is still hit but the car had performed exactly what it was programmed to. Who will be held accountable


When will this be solved?

2017: The date by which the Department of Transport has promised a review. Until comprehensive feasibility and safety reports have been made, autonomous vehicles could be limited to freight and goods.


5. Security and driver safety

Technical errors on the road could have fatal consequences for passengers in self-driving cars. Legal theorists for autonomous cars will need reviewing to ensure that the cars make the best possible judgements.

Example: The car detects an obstruction ahead, and a sudden stop will cause an accident. The has a directive to avoid collisions with objects. It also has a directive to obey the law by keeping lanes. Confused the car decides to sop – an accident ensues.


When will this be solved?

Unknown: Tesla has a proven safety record with Internet-connected cars, and eCall technology will become mandatory in all EU cars from 2015. Until statistically significant safety tests have been made, it’s unclear what hidden safety issues autonomous cars might present.


6. Cost and affordability

Prohibitive costs could prevent autonomous cars becoming a common fixture on the roads. Competitive pricing will be needed if manufacturers are to gain a market foothold.

£4,500 – £7,000 will be added to a car’s price tag for self-driving technology in 2025 (IHS Automotive). This figure will drop to £3,000 in 2030 and £2,000 in 2035.


When will this be solved?

According to IHS automotive this is when most self-driving vehicles will be operated completely independent from a human occupant’s control. Of course, the most decisive factor will be market demand  – and the need to offer affordable autonomous cars.


The Future Of Self-Driving Cars

Of course, this doesn’t mean that R&D has stalled – in fact, developers are intent on getting self-driving cars on the road as quickly as possible.

So far 700,000 miles have been racked up by Google’s self-driving cars to date on test runs and $9m has been invested in Project GATEway, which will link transport hubs in Greenwich with autonomous vehicles.


UK Timeline: 

2015: Autonomous vehicle pilot projects will begin in the UK and 6-10 US cities

2020: The year which BMW, Nissan, General Motors, Mercedes and Cadillac plan to offer mostly self-driving cars.

2025: The year BMW expects fully-autonomous commercial vehicles to become available.


Until manufacturers overcome all of these roadblocks, self driving cars will be stuck on the test tracks.

While developers remain optimistic, the problems go beyond the technical – robot ethics is a new science, and autonomous cars will further the debate on human agency and morality.



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