Self-driving Cars

By Mara Mladenovski

In 2016, Google founded Waymo, the fully self-driving car that stands for a new way forward in mobility today. Self-driving technology and autonomous cars began in 2009 with the self-driving car project developed by Google. In the beginning of self-driving technology, Toyota Prius’ were the first vehicles to travel over one thousand miles completely autonomously, which was the largest self-driving record to take place in history in 2009. Three years later, Google included the Lexus RX450h to their fleet of vehicles that would be modified as autonomous vehicles. Soon their fleet of vehicles, the Toyota Prius and the Lexus RX450h, were transitioned to a more complex environment of city streets, which included pedestrians, cyclists, roadwork, and heavy traffic. The transition was a success, and in 2015, Google went on to invent “Firefly.” Autonomous custom sensors, computers, steering, and braking were incorporated into “Firefly,” which became known as the first new reference vehicle to be built from scratch. More importantly, “Firefly” would soon be known as the world’s first fully self-driving vehicle to operate on public roads. One year later, Google’s mission to make self-driving technology safe and easy for people and things to move around became known as Waymo.

As of today, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan was adopted into Waymo’s fleet of self-driving vehicles, and it was the first vehicle to be built on a mass-production basis with fully autonomous hardware. A public trial of self-driving vehicles began in Phoenix, Arizona where residents experienced the future of autonomous vehicles without anyone in the driver’s seat. The technology of Waymo has sensors and software designed to detect a distance of up to two football fields away in all directions: North, South, East, West, and in between. Although the integrated technology is complex, and it requires recognition of a numerous amount of complex scenarios on city streets, the goal of Waymo is to build a safer driver. Because human error and inattention is the number one cause of traffic accidents and fatalities, Waymo’s mission is to ultimately reduce these numbers through the safety of self-driving vehicles. Their autonomous vehicles allow people the convenience of travel especially when individuals are drowsy, easily distracted, or intoxicated. Ultimately, Waymo and its technology of self-driving vehicles improves safety and enhances quality of life for all individuals.

As a senior at Indiana University Northwest (IUN) in 2017, there are currently no self-driving vehicles on campus. Students, staff, and faculty either drive a manual or automatic gas vehicle, an electric vehicle, or use public bus service transportation. Within the next twenty-five years, I predict that self-driving vehicles will become popular at IUN. Self-driving technology and autonomous cars will not become popular at IUN until 2042 because of reliability and cost: trust versus doubt in regards to the safety of the self-driving vehicles and the expense of the advanced autonomous technology.

As of today in my opinion, the safety of self-driving technology is questionable. Does the technology of autonomous vehicles guarantee a one hundred percent level of safety? Is the rate of human error and distraction considerably high compared to self-driving technology? Is it possible for autonomous vehicles to identify every scenario in a complex driving environment such as weather, roundabouts, yields, construction, or accidents? If the technology of self-driving vehicles does improve road safety, then are autonomous vehicles still capable of mistakes? If the self-driving vehicle did make a mistake while operating, then the mistakes of self-driving vehicles can still result in a number of car accidents. For example, if an accident occurred between two self-driving vehicles, which passenger of the self-driving vehicle is the responsible party? Are both passengers of the self-driving vehicles responsible, or is the manufacturer of the vehicle responsible? According to Waymo, they are “building a safer driver that is always alert and never distracted.” In my opinion however, I have doubt towards the technology to always be alert and never be distracted. If accidents are a possibility, I feel as if the manufacturer of the self-driving vehicle is responsible because human error is not involved. However, no matter the amount of personal doubt I have, Waymo, self-driving technology, and autonomous cars are the way of the future. Members of the public will soon use these vehicles in their daily lives because fully self-driving vehicles have already begun test-driving on public roads. As a result, it will interesting to see how quickly this technology becomes popular over the next decade, and if citizens of the United States will be willing to take the risk involved in self-driving cars.



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