Tech Marvels: Self-Driving Cars Leap Forward

Daniel Mwangi
5 Min Read
Image of Autonomous cars concept

The artificial intelligence (AI) boom is, for instance, threatening to disrupt almost all major industries. Jobs in media and marketing are expected to be affected by generative AI. Experts and wannabe experts have taken to the internet to dissect the future of humanity post-AI. 

This trend of disruption occasioned by technology is not unique to the auto industry, either. The motoring industry is facing a monumental shift from gas-powered cars to electric-powered cars. EV technology has taken off, with carmakers racing to electrify their fleets. 

However, where are the much-hyped self-driving cars?

What happened to Autonomous Vehicles?

The initial entry of autonomous-driving technology in 2013 caused euphoria as it is being experienced with AI.

Market leaders in autonomous vehicle (AV) technology such as Tesla, Cruise, and Waymo hyped the possibility of driverless taxis by 2020. 

It is now 2023, and they still aren’t mainstream. What happened to self-driving cars?

Behind the scenes, there has been considerable progress. Not forgetting the much-publicized drawbacks. 

Market Leader Statistics

  • Tesla, a global leader in autonomous vehicle technology, has clocked 3 billion miles in autopilot. 
  • Waymo, a Google subsidiary, has reportedly tested over 20 million miles of autonomous driving on public roads and in simulation.

These statistics show impressive progress. Nonetheless, the impact of self-driving cars is less apparent than many would hope. The service is invaluable for, elder citizens, persons living with disabilities, and ordinary people who need to run errands without necessarily being there. However, it has yet to pick up. 

In major cities in China and the US, a self-driving car can easily be spotted. In California and Arizona, for instance, driverless cars are a common sight. The majority of them are driverless taxis. 

As much as Robotaxis are praiseworthy, they continue to face several unique challenges. These include:

  • False 911 alarms whereby Cruise staff phoned 911 to report ‘unresponsive passengers’. Emergency providers attended to calls only to find that the passengers were asleep. Since the cars have no driver and are still in the testing phase, the cab service is usually in constant contact with the passengers.  
  •  In another instance, five Waymo self-driving vehicles stopped on the road because the weather was foggy. The sensors used in the cabs are only effective when the weather is clear.

These unique challenges reveal that the technology is still not rife. 

An interesting trend is that in China, autonomous ride-hailing services continue to spread to the country’s main cities. 

What is the Way Forward for Self-driving Cars?

Why are AVs more successful in China?

Autonomous Ride-hailing in China

The approach China has taken seems to be working. They have identified the issues as infrastructure and public awareness.

In China, stakeholders are starting by redesigning the infrastructure to make it apt for AVs. Additionally, they have introduced laws that stipulate how the populace should use the updated infrastructure. This way, the infrastructure, population, and AVs are in unison.

The fact that the country is an autocracy makes it easy to enforce laws. Unlike in the US where democracy calls for different levels of government to pass laws. 

Fourth Traffic Light

In a unique proposal, researchers are pushing for a fourth traffic signal light. According to North Carolina State University, the researchers advance that autonomous vehicles are to control traffic by being in contact with traffic lights and other AVs. 

In a nutshell, AVs will be in constant communication with traffic lights when near an intersection. The premise is that AVs will enable them to coordinate traffic by dictating speeds. Tests done showed that AVs improved the flow of traffic by using their computing power.

A Final Note on Self-Driving Cars

Technology is not sparing anyone. It is evolving at a rapid rate. This is without glitches. The bottom line is that digital transformation will continue. 

Autonomous taxis are slowly becoming a reality. The leading adopters of the technology, the US and China, are conquering the barriers as they come. Self-driving cars will become a reality eventually. All signs are there to affirm that. 

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