Are Autonomous Cars Closer Than We Think?

Are Autonomous Cars Closer Than We Think?

The recent 2016 North American International Auto Show showed us yet more ways the traditional automobile industry and the modern technology sector are becoming intertwined. Autonomous, or “self-driving,” cars are perhaps the biggest change. These vehicles have the potential to completely change the way we think about everyday transport. Should we expect mass adoption right around the corner though? Here’s what we should expect.

Autonomous Cars

Tackling Safety Issues

No doubt the biggest concern people have with the potential mass adoption of autonomous cars is safety. After all, if the system malfunctions it could lead to a major incident. Contrary to popular belief, roadworthy vehicles being made today that have the capability to drive themselves also allow the driver to step in and take control of the situation at any time.

The majority of these vehicles make use of lidar technology, which measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and then analyzing the reflected light. One of the issues that has plagued early prototypes is driving in adverse weather conditions. However, Ford recently announced that they have been successfully testing autonomous vehicles in blizzard conditions. The company is using lidar to detect landmarks above the road, then switching to it’s own high-resolution maps of the road that are already stored on-board the vehicle to actually drive.

Alternative Fuel Solutions

Most of the autonomous vehicles we’ve seen so far have been plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), though we’ve also heard about some companies experimenting with hydrogen fuel cells. The problem these manufacturers face are same of any PEV maker: namely that their mileage is limited to a single charge. If there were enough power stations around the country to facilitate this, it might help to ease the general public’s skepticism.

Even if this kind of infrastructure was in place, though, it would still take several hours to fully recharge a vehicle. DC Quick-Charge, also known as Level 3 Charging, can offer around 40 miles of range in just 10 minutes. At a cost of up to $100,000 each, however, it would take a considerable investment to make a framework of this scale a reality. Recent reports have even surfaced that Google parent-company Alphabet is testing at least two wireless charging systems for its electric-powered self-driving cars.

New Design Possibilities

Speak to a classic car enthusiast and one of the things they’ll tell you is that modern cars all look the same now. That there’s no personality to individual vehicles anymore. While this may be true, it’s often for good reason. Modern designs cater towards new pedestrian safety standards as well as a better understanding of aerodynamics and fuel efficiency.

Now that designers aren’t restricted around incorporating an internal combustion engine anymore, though, there’s a much greater potential for interesting designs in the near future. In fact, some of the prototypes we’ve seen so far look like what we’d expect from a science-fiction movie. While it’s likely that many of these creations will never leave the concept stage, over time we should expect the design of everyday vehicles to change as they’re no longer shackled by the limitations of the past.