A promise of the future, already captured on film is the concept of self-driven cars. How close are we really to this notion and can we sit in one of these AI chauffeured road-legal cars within our lifetimes? If the state of Michigan, USA is to be believed, the time is now. Just recently, the state passed a ruling that basically negated the previously existing 2013 law, which mandated all autonomous vehicles to maintain a backup driver on-board.
This comes as Ford pledges delivery of vehicles by 2021 that will not have driving wheels, pedals but just the comforts for inhabitants inside. But, before we start blowing the trumpets, here’s a quick peak at the various challenges faced by autonomous vehicles on public roads.
Understanding What’s Around You
We see the road, we an obstacle, we brake. A computer driving a car basically replicates all this by interpreting the data its sensors provide it. Unfortunately, when there are filters applied, a computer does not do so well. By filters we mean atmospheric conditions. The human brain is able to remove unwanted data rather intuitively. We know snow is not what can damage the vehicle so we see past it. A car AI however looks at snow as obstruction and finds it hard to see past. Because, data and the interpretation of the data is what powers such vehicles, the surroundings are a bit jumbled up for cars at the moment.
When we reach an intersection, our brain processes several hundred signals at once. The traffic officer signaling to us, his whistle blowing, a pedestrian beginning his walk across the road and then from the corner of our eye we notice a child sensing his run onto the road. That’s what we latch on to and react with thus preventing an accident. Current computer AIs are good at understanding methodical and predictable data but not sudden encounters or sudden change in input data. They cannot perceive a possible interference like a kid running onto the street when all other signals say go.
What Can We Expect In The Near Future?
Okay, enough of gloom and doom. What can we really except from our intelligent cars in say a decade or two? First and foremost, the possibility of fully autonomous vehicles is slim and we don’t see it happening for at least few decades ahead. As for semi-autonomous vehicles, that is something we can look forward to.
A car can drive itself on the highway or on specific sections of a predestined route when it understands the road conditions ahead, has a clear weather forecast and the driver is willing. When the time comes to take over, it will then alert drivers to take over. Some researchers are even looking at the possibility of using neural signals to provide additional data to vehicles. Such as brain impulses firing when something suddenly comes in the field of view and so on.
For more on obstacles in autonomous driving, you can read here.