Understanding Self-Driving & Autonomous Vehicles

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Once a futuristic concept that existed only in sci-fi films, self-driving cars are on the road to becoming a reality. The technology needed to bring these autonomous cars to the streets is currently in development, with several working prototypes already in testing. With some sources predicting that 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020, you might be wondering how these vehicles work and why they’re making headlines.

This guide will provide an overview of self-driving car technology, as well as a look at the potential benefits of and future developments for the vehicles.

The Basics of Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars — sometimes called autonomous cars, driverless cars, or robotic cars — are vehicles with built-in navigation abilities and sensor technology that allow them to drive with little or no input from human drivers. These high-tech cars use an intricate combination of light detection and ranging (lidar), radar, GPS and odometry, which measures distance. They also have cameras to detect their external environment and adjust speed and course accordingly.

You may be familiar with some self-driving technology, as semi-autonomous cars are already on the road. Over the last few years, companies like Volvo and Tesla have incorporated driverless features into a few of their newer models, allowing the cars to perform some — but not all — of the functions a human usually controls in a vehicle, including straight-road steering, braking, and even parallel parking.

The Perks of Autonomous Vehicles

Fully autonomous cars will perform far beyond the semi-autonomous features available today, and are likely to improve safety by reducing human error. Tired driving, intoxicated driving, and distracted driving all contribute to billions of dollars’ worth of accident-related damages — a figure that could be reduced with the help of precise robotic guidance behind the wheel.

Self-driving cars could also have a positive impact for people with reduced mobility. A driverless car won’t need direct human oversight to travel from one point to another, meaning that these advances could go a long way toward equalizing an industry that has traditionally catered almost exclusively to consumers with full mobility.

Finally, there’s the point of insurance coverage. Liability expenses currently make up a good portion of the average auto insurance premium, but that could change with the wide release of driverless cars. If autonomous vehicles end up being as safe as proponents claim, there’s a chance that auto insurance costs could drop across the board.

The Future of Driverless Tech

Truly driverless cars are expected to become publicly available between 2019 and 2020. However, there is still some debate about how rapidly self-driving cars will become mainstream. Though they are expected to cost more than the average American can afford when they first hit the market, some analysts forecast there will be 54 million autonomous vehicles on the road by 2035.

Another factor that could slow adoption? The current lack of nationwide autonomous vehicle regulation. Federal authorities have not yet released any set guidelines around these vehicles, though legislators are certainly aware of the need. With so many high-profile developers eager to enter the driverless car arena — including Google, Nissan, Mercedes, and Tesla, to name a few — there will almost surely be advances in tech regulation over the coming years.

Regardless of when self-driving cars become available, the implications of new tech on the road are sure to reach far beyond the immediate owners of said vehicles. This growth could revolutionize the auto industry, hopefully leading to a smarter and safer future.

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