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The driverless (or autonomous) vehicle has long been a dream of consumers the world over, and it’s gradually becoming a reality.
Self-driving cars may once have been the stuff of science-fiction, enabling drivers the freedom to relax and let an on-board computer take the wheel, but visionary minds are bringing fully-autonomous vehicles closer to the mainstream market. We’re still some way away from widespread adoption, though, and it may be some years (possibly decades) before our freeways are filled with self-driving cars, trucks, buses, and more.
Certain brands have already rolled out vehicles with driverless features, such as the 2017 Volvo S90 with Pilot Assist. This system is in its second generation, and takes control of the car at all speeds below 80mph, though drivers still have to remain in the seat and make contact with the steering wheel on a regular basis.
Other manufacturers – Tesla, General Motors, and more – are currently working towards going fully-autonomous within the next few years.
Still, as exciting as this is, many people feel uneasy about the prospect of autonomous vehicles populating our roads. This is understandable, certainly: technology has continued to play a bigger and bigger role in our everyday lives, from the social-media apps we use to share every detail of our lives (some people more so than others) to the search engines recording our online activities.
Of course, while there is a significant security concern with the above issues, the safety standards of driverless vehicles are literally a matter of life and death. Skeptics would argue that a single glitch or processing error within the car’s on-board system could cause fatal accidents, removing drivers from the act of driving altogether.
While this is a legitimate concern, some of the brightest minds in the world are hard at work making these systems as safe as they can possibly be. On top of this, there is another matter consumers may have overlooked – the rate at which autonomous vehicles consume power.
Considering the Cost
Think about it. The more computerized cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles become, the more technical components are required. Advanced systems will demand more and more computing power to keep running – which may well be completely at odds with today’s energy-saving culture.
As manufacturers come under greater and greater pressure to transition to electric vehicles and help to reduce global emissions, the added strain so many complex features will place on electric cars must be minimized.
Research shows that current autonomous prototypes demand huge amounts of energy to maintain their proper functions, the equivalent of between 50 and 100 laptops (or 2 to 4 kw). In modern vehicles, such consumption makes meeting fuel-efficiency and carbon-emission standards between 5 and 10% harder to meet.
For this reason, it’s expected that the first fleet of vehicles with fully-driverless capabilities will be hybrids. Having cars running on batteries alone, with no fuel back-up, would mean driverless models could simply run out of power at any stage in a journey; on top of the substantial price tags attached to the vehicles themselves, the regular cost of charging would drive the overall running costs even higher.
However, regardless of how autonomous and energy-efficient vehicles become in the future, one thing is for sure: breakdowns and mechanical faults will still happen. San Mateo towing company Palm way Towing highlighted this:
“Drivers will continue to depend on the assistance of towing and recovery services to help their vehicles get to garages safely. These technological breakthroughs are incredibly exciting and, in the case of electric vehicles, a real benefit to our environment – but towing services will remain just as important 20 years from now as they are today.”
It would appear that human control and input cannot be removed from the running and maintenance of cars completely, and the reality of having an invisible chauffeur driving your flawless vehicle for you at all times may not be quite what you expect. The shift to autonomous cars will be revolutionary, and manufacturers have a duty to make the transition as safe, green, and secure for everyone as possible.