A self-driving car (or autonomous car) is a vehicle which can operate without human involvement by sensing its environment. With Elon Musk announcing Tesla’s plan to launch a self-driving taxi fleet potentially by the end of the year what are the pros, the cons and the adaptability of these machines?

Levels of Autonomy

0 = No Automation. A human performs all the driving tasks.
1 = Driver Assistance.
2 = Partial Automation
3 = Conditional Automation
4 = High Automation
5 = Full Automation. This is necessary for any self-driving taxi.

Pros

Cons

  • How will autonomous cars adapt to changing seasons? Will there be a change in safety precautions? In poor visibility, how will the machine react to increase safety? If snow covers road signs or road markings, how will the cameras sense this?
  • There will be varying levels of regulations in different countries, and even the same countries, such as the US States.
  • Who is liable if there is an accident involving the autonomous vehicle? The manufacturer, the passenger, or someone else?
  • The Trolley Problem. A truly self-driving car will need have to be given ethical instructions of some sort by human programmers.
  • Will these vehicles be able to predict human behaviours, for example, road rage?

Can they be used everywhere?

However, it does seem unrealistic that driverless vehicles will be able to tackle the driving experiences and environments of different countries, states, and cities.

Take London as an example. There will be different types of vehicles in the capital, including ‘Boris Bikes’, pedestrians, motorcyclists, double decker buses, and even the occasional rollerblader. These users will act in different ways and are not always predictable. A driver needs to read the situation to make their next move.

On top of this, London boasts notoriously narrow streets, confusing roundabouts and congested streets. It is an old city without the infrastructure for the number of vehicles it sees daily. It also rains a lot. This may be a completely different scenario to a rural American state, or a city where autonomous vehicle tests are being undertaken.

Therefore, although safety is one of the benefits associated with driverless vehicles, it could be the major problem when deploying these vehicles different environments.

What are your opinions on driverless vehicles? Let us know in the comments.

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