The Automotive Industry, Briefly

The World of Self-Driving Cars will be Weird

11.21.16 - British Contraption

When we turn our keys and controls over to our cars and have to trust them to get us from one place to another safely the initial change will be extremely strange. If every car on the road were driven autonomously and used the same network to communicate, they could do so seamlessly and could follow along with each other as extremely close intervals. Unfortunately, the reality is we will continue to have human drivers behind the wheel of our vehicles for several years before self-driving technology takes over the roads.

While we wait for the infrastructure changes to take place and the driving conditions to be turned over to the vehicles, those who are working on creating these self-driving machines have to consider what they’re doing. Not that they are doing anything wrong, but if a machine was programmed to drive and knows the distance in its space it will get close to other vehicles on the road and make human drivers uncomfortable. This creates the possibility of having several accidents before we even get going in the world of self-driving vehicles and the new technology will be blamed for why these vehicles collide.

The reality is a computer can calculate to within a microscopic range the space needed to perform a maneuver and can do this in forward or reverse. One of the most important maneuvers that is practiced all the time and takes place on the road, especially during driving tests is the three point turn. Simply put this is a U-turn that happens when there isn’t room for the U-shaped turn to take place. Keeping in mind that a computer doesn’t care if it’s driving in forward or reverse, the simplest way to make this happen would be to move into the lane going the other direction and just drive backwards.

Because our vehicles aren’t set up to drive at the same speeds or have the same performance features going backwards, Google has been practicing over 1,000 three-point turns each week. This turn typically only takes three points to make happen, but a computer can make several points to come up with the end result if it’s not limited by the programming that’s in place. Google has worked to put the limitations on the vehicles they test to make sure the cars perform this action in a three-point turn manner which is more natural to people.

Why can’t these cars just make the turns the way a computer would? This is truly because of the human element of human drivers that are on the roads at the moment. These human drivers make it so that cars need to be going forward much more than backwards so that we can be comfortable with the actions of the vehicle. Imagine if you tried to drive backward for a long period of time, you have to turn your head in an unnatural way. Until self-driving cars are all that remain on the roads we’ll have this “dumbing down” of the technology and programming, but once all the human driven cars are gone the programming can be unleased and computers will rule the roads.

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