In the past several years, whenever there was a competition in the world of technology, it looked like Google will come out on top. But in the latest battle for the company that will provide the first self-driving car, Google has much more competition than usually. Companies like Mercedes, Tesla and BMW have already made huge strides in the area, providing their latest flagship vehicles with many self-driving features. They are far from a completely 100% self-driving car, but features like lane departure warning, blind spot detection, daytime pedestrian protection and frontal collision warning are now common in cars like BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi 8 and others.
The reality is that self-driving cars no longer a futuristic idea. Big companies like to say “the future is now” and “the future is here”, and in this case, they might be right.
How far are we?
According to business insider magazine, self-driving cars are closer than you might think. A large and in-depth analysis of the magazine has showed the following results:
– By 2019, we should have a fully autonomous vehicle that can get from point A to Point B. The vehicle will be able to overcome all the challenges that come with daily on-road scenarios, and do so without help from the driver.
– By 2020, Business Insider believes there will be 10 million cars with self-driving features, be it semi-autonomous or fully-autonomous.
– It is worth mentioning that fully-autonomous cars are divided into two sections. The first one is user-operated fully autonomous, which will debut within 5 years from now. The second group is driverless cars, which sadly, are long way gone.
– But the most important aspect is safety, and according to statistics, in the UK only, self-driving cars will reduce the number of deaths by 2,500 in a period between 2020 and 2030.
The Tesla Route
Tesla and Google are taking different routes when it comes to development of self-driving cars. Tesla is trying to make a car that is safe enough to drive itself, but it will still require a driver in the seat. Google, on the other hand, wants to produce a fully autonomous driverless vehicle. How is Tesla achieving the company’s goal?
Last year, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk released the public beta phase for autopilot feature. According to Musk, everyone participating in the public beta is helping refine technology. As of summer of 2016, Tesla drivers have logged more than 100 million miles using autopilot feature. And the numbers support it, as 85% of respondents in a survey said they were aware of the project, compared to 75% in spring.
Tesla has another ace in its sleeve. Surveys say that customers trust Tesla more than a traditional automaker company.
For its part, the company claims that every vehicle goes through a vigorous testing, and their in-house tests show the vehicle is safe for driving. And their software is learning all the time, as driving the car makes the software better. Learning from experience is the way to go for Tesla. The company is just preparing for the first flight, as eventually, it has to put passengers in the first car with fully-autonomous software.
The Google Route
When Google first started the self-driving cars project, the company had great results. The company modified a Lexus SUV, and the drivers of the company soon found out that they car can travel on a freeway at speed of 60mph, all while they are taking photos with their phones, and essentially taking their hands off the wheel. All it took was five minutes for the drivers to feel safe, think the car works well, and trust it to work without their intervention.
Afraid of human error, Google completely changed its route and perception of autonomous cars. The company now wanted to make them completely driverless, eliminating human error from the equation. Legislation was a limit for Google, but in 2011, four states in the US passed a legislation to allow driverless cars.
In early 2014, Google presented the first successful project, a new concept that was without pedals and steering wheel inside. The prototype was unveiled at a car show in December, and the company said testing starts in 2015. The company has since then looked for a partner, moving from Toyota, to Chrysler as the latest manufacturer. If all goes well, Google’s first self-driving car will be available to the public in 2020.
Some of the challenges the tech giant has to work on include: obeying temporary traffic lights, identifying trash objects, spot potholes, and identify police officers signaling.
There are two challenges that companies need to overcome in order to make self-driving cars reality. The first one is money related, as many expect that fully-autonomous cars will be a luxury not everyone can afford. And that might be true, as the software needed to make the necessary changes to the car’s engine and everything else is expensive. At first, self-driving cars might cost twice the price of a regular car with the same performances.
The second, and probably more crucial challenge is eliminating human error. At the moment, the autopilot feature that Tesla has installed is classified as level 2. Translated, that level means the car can stay in the center of a lane, change lanes when needed, and adjust speed according to the traffic.
Google has plans for making level 4 and level 5 cars. Level 4 means there will still be a driver in the vehicle, but only to input navigation controls and instructions. All other controls are given to the vehicle. Level 5, on the other hand, does not involve a driver at all.
Volvo and BMW have also revealed plans for developing a vehicle that has level 2 autonomy. According to critics, level 2 provides just enough autonomy so that drivers can feel false sense that the vehicle is able to control everything and drive itself. The result is careless behavior, and more accidents. And instead of lowering the number of deaths and accidents, level 2 autonomous vehicle may provide to be bigger risk to traffic.