Over the last 20 years, the idea of autonomous vehicles has gone from science fiction optimism to wave of the future, embedding itself in popular culture as the possible next step for automobiles. Many companies, especially Tesla, have normalized self-driving cars and made them a viable option on the car buying market. However, many do not fully know the history, impact, and speculations of autonomous vehicles, and what some believe they could do for our world. Self-driving cars are an exciting and strange future that is coming to fruition in the present day. With that in mind, here are 10 things you didn't know about self-driving cars.
10 The First Driverless Car was Made in 1925
While self-driving cars may seem only attainable in the present day, automakers and inventors alike have been trying to create a driverless car for nearly 100 years. The first widely known driverless car was publicly displayed in 1925. In New York City, Houdina Radio Control’s founder, Francis P. Houdina, attached a transmitting antenna to a 1926 Chandler and was able to remote control it from the following vehicle.
Through a series of small motors, Houdina was able to drive his invention, dubbed American Wonder, through the busy streets of New York City. While not truly autonomous, Houdina's Phantom Auto greatly impressed the public, instilling a growing fascination in the driverless car.
9 Most Self-Driving Research Has Been Paid For by the U.S. Government
Over the last few decades, advancements in autonomous cars have been made all over the world, yet most research has come right from Uncle Sam's pocket. One of the largest advancements in self-driving technology came in 1995, when Carnegie Mellon University's Navlab 5 autonomously drove from Pittsburgh, PA to San Diego, CA.
The project was predominantly funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) among other U.S. departments. Yet, this is not the U.S. government's only time investing in self-driving technology. In 1991, the U.S. allocated over $600 million for the National Automated Highway System, which researched and tested different means of achieving self-driving cars. DARPA even hosted three DARPA Grand Challenges, which were an autonomous car race with cash prizes for winners.
8 There are Multiple Levels of Self-Driving Capabilities
In many people's eyes, self-driving cars are a somewhat binary technology; either the car drives itself or it doesn't. However, the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) has broken down autonomous driving capabilities into five levels. Level 0 is “no automation,” indicating the car may warn the driver or may momentarily take over, yet has no lasting vehicle control.
Level 1 is dubbed “driver assistance;” Level 2 is “partial assistance (acceleration, braking, and steering).” This is where Tesla's Autopilot sits on SAE's scale. Level 3 is “conditional automation” meaning the driver can turn their attention away from the road momentarily. Level 4 is “high automation,” requires no attention from the driver unless desired. Finally, level 5 is “full automation,” where human driving is not considered, as an autonomous taxi.
7 Self-Driving Cars Could Streamline Your Life
The unique abilities of self-driving cars present a potentially radically different future, simplifying numerous aspects of life in and out of the driver's seat. If fully integrated into society, self-driving cars could make traffic as we know it nearly nonexistent, simplify parking, and offer transportation and insurance to all for drastically lower prices.
Especially in urban centers, many may not even need personal cars anymore, with autonomous taxis or ride-sharing services quickly and effectively taking commutators to where they need to go. In the ideal self-driving future, everything is streamlined and effective, creating a more productive, efficient, cleaner, and safer society.
6 Self-Driving Cars Are Making Automotive Companies Work Together
Although it has happened before, car companies working in tandem is a rare occurrence. Automakers want their products to be different from their competitors in any way possible, so collaboration has often appeared detrimental or ineffective. However, with the complexities of self-driving cars, this too may change.
While working toward a self-driving future, car companies have begun to understand the enormous undertaking of getting all cars to talk and react to each other. Many companies have made their self-driving systems open-source, meaning anyone can take the programming and build upon it. BMW and Daimler have combined a total of 1,200 technicians from both companies to work toward newer self-driving systems. Other automotive giants like Ford and VW also have a deal to cooperate on self-driving cars.
5 Self-Driving Fatalities Are Very Low
In recent news, a few stories of fatalities in or caused by self-driving cars have scared many and turned them away from the notion of hands-free driving experience. This came to a head in March 2018 when an autonomous Uber car hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.
In spite of this, and driverless cars' limited time on the roads, they have already presented themselves as quite safe. In total, less than 10 fatalities have been reportedly caused by or in self-driving cars. Much more research and testing must be done before driverless cars are perfectly safe, yet it seems the industry's initial focus on safety has already begun to pay off.
4 Cars Won't Be the Only Autonomous Vehicles
Much of the discussion around autonomous vehicles have surrounded consumer cars, yet most industries are already working on their own autonomous vehicles and systems. Scout, a driverless boat, has earned the record for the longest distance of an unmanned Atlantic naval trip in only a few short years, using GPS and the internet to make its voyage across the sea.
Although this is a small step toward self-driving nautical vessels, it foreshadows a future where transportation and shipping are completely autonomous. Outside of transportation, autonomous vehicles are already being put to work in numerous fields, including agriculture, security, entertainment, and the military, among others.
3 Self-Driving Cars Will ChangeThe Look Of Our Cities
The current metropolitan center, especially in the United States, was shaped by the car. The highway linked population hot spots, and urban planners had to account for numerous cars entering and exiting the many veins of the modern city. However, driverless cars will drastically change our cities as they adapt to them. Parking will dramatically change, becoming more effective, shaping where people park and where foot traffic goes.
Newer designs for streets will be implemented that take advantage of autonomous cars talking and reacting to each other. Lastly, where people live will matter much less, for hands-off driving will make long rides less cumbersome, shifting people away from the hearts of cities and to wherever they want to live.
2 Work On Self-Driving Cars Is Not Only Being Done By Car Companies
Automotive makers are obviously on the front lines of self-driving cars, yet they are not working on the technology alone. Not only have many car companies partnered with tech companies to work on self-driving cars, but numerous tech giants have jumped into the world of autonomous vehicles for themselves.
Companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, and Microsoft have all jumped into the world of self-driving cars with little to no previous automotive experience. Numerous smaller companies are also vying to be the next big step in autonomous driving. If anything, silicon valley has shown immense interest and ambition in the future of self-driving vehicles and will be integral to its growth.
1 Autonomous Cars Could Save the Planet
Climate scientists have warned that the climate is changing and its effects are beginning to show. In the last decade, environmental activism has risen sharply with climate change becoming a popular culture talking point. However, advancements in electric and self-driving vehicles could possibly be one of many answers to climate change. Autonomous vehicles can manage themselves for optimal performance, cutting back on CO2 output.
If every car performed this way, while also being electric and/or hybrid, a massive dent could be made in humanity's carbon footprint. While not the sole solution to climate change, autonomous cars could make a drastic change for the better.