Last month, the central government of the United States (US) has officially announced a guideline for the testing and deployment of self-driving vehicles. It is meaningful in that it was the first effort to integrate different legislations from state to state, which had inhibited the development of self-driving cars into one national guideline. In other words, the self- driving car industry has met another powerful ally acknowledging its potentials. After this declaration, there was once again a discussion about to what extent people can trust self-driving cars. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) scrutinizes this new car concept, particularly focusing on its feasibility and the problems to be solved.
What Is a Self-Driving Car?
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, a self-driving car is defined as a high-tech car that perceives the driving conditions and reaches a destination by itself without the driver’s operation. In other words, a self-driving car is a “human- friendly” car with a goal to minimize the driver’s steering.
The mechanism of a self-driving car is fundamentally the same as how people normally drive. It goes through three stages: perception, judgment, and control. First, a self-driving car perceives the surrounding environment through diverse sensors, which also receive the car’s real-time location from the global positioning system (GPS). This process is similar to people’s grasp of the outside world through sensory organs. Second, a central computer recommends an optimal driving path or finds suitable movements in accordance with the algorithms inserted in advance. Finally, the car conducts actual motion commanded by the central computer.
|wired.com/ Major Components of a Self-Driving Car|
There are several technologies implemented in a self-driving car. For example, the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) is a system that assists drivers to drive properly and sometimes controls driving by itself depending on external environments. It includes functions such as automatically maintaining ideal distance from other cars or giving warning sounds when drivers take their hands off the steering wheel. Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) is another common technology which differentiates self-driving cars from other traditional cars. It refers to the self-driving car’s ability to exchange or receive information by communicating with other cars or roadway infrastructures. For instance, self-driving cars can transmit messages to one another through a certain frequency spectrum, and then predict the course or movement of other cars beforehand.
Different Levels of Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars can be divided into different levels according to the degree of development. The diagram below shows the five stages of self-driving cars suggested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
|Source: NHTSA/ Levels of Driving Automation|
At level one, only a single movement (direction or speed) is controlled. At level two, the car can control both direction and speed using combination of technologies. Up to this level, the autonomic driving system is no more than a “helper” for drivers. Level three is the hands- free step, meaning that driver intervention becomes hardly necessary. Nevertheless, drivers should be ready to take over the wheel in case of emergency. The final level is called the eye-free step, where drivers do not have to watch the road ahead but can enjoy complete freedom.
History of Development and Prospect
Early Self-driving Cars
The first concept of a self-driving car was developed to make roads without traffic accidents. According to the NHTSA, 94% of every car accident is caused by drivers’ carelessness. Therefore, some people had the idea that keeping drivers’ hands away from the wheel would contribute to roads with less accidents. In this sense, the early term for self-driving cars was “collision-less car.” Although research on self- driving cars has continued from the 1920’s, it was not until the 1980’s that the development of self-driving cars actually flourished. In the 1980’s, the US first gained a dominant position in the industry. It was possible because the US did not sign up for the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, unlike many European Union (EU) nations. When the convention was firstly concluded, Article 8 of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic prevented the development of self- driving cars, stipulating that “every moving vehicle or combination of vehicles shall have a driver.” Threatened by the US’s success, many countries from the EU jumped into the self-driving car market by amending the article to boost the industry.
Present and Future of Self-Driving Cars
Globally, there are already self-driving cars commercialized in the market, though they are not perfectly autonomous. Some advanced models manufactured by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and KIA are equipped with level two technologies. Nonetheless, Google possesses level three technology, while Tesla, one of the leading self-driving car companies, possesses level four technology. There are also autonomous public transportations operated for trial. The first self-driving taxi in Singapore is gaining positive response from customers since its introduction this August. Furthermore, Israel deployed self-driving military vehicles in actual battles from this July. Since military vehicles have to drive on rough roads and cope with various obstacles such as bombs and mines, they require higher technologies than ordinary cars. As self-driving technologies are developing at a rapid rate, according to a report by McKinsey & Company, self-driving cars are likely to spread throughout the public by 2020, be completely commercialized by 2035, and finally replace every traditional car by 2050. The self-driving car industry is one of the most promising industries, anticipated to grow by more than 85% annually.
|thedetroitbureau.com/ First Self-Driving Taxi by Nutonomy|
Social Changes Self-Driving Cars Can Induce
Introducing self-driving cars into the market will inevitably cause drastic changes in the industry structure. Since cars can be sent back alone, there is no need to have one car per person. Therefore, self-driving cars are a type of car suitable in sharing economy and could result in a potential boom in the car sharing or small-sized public transportation markets. On the other hand, the ground transportation industry will face a crisis. For instance, in Korea, about 919 thousand people, who comprise 3.3% of the adult male population, were working in this field in 2013. The reorganization of the industry structure implies that these people could go unemployed. Some experts are even expecting a Neo-Luddite movement, which opposes modern technologies and machines, to occur due to people’s resistance to massive unemployment.
Self-Driving Cars in Korea
Currently, Korea is in desperate need of developing self-driving cars. The Korean car industry has experienced a continuous decrease in exports in the past five years. As the traditional car market has already reached its saturation point, it is crucial to create new demand by developing a completely different concept of a car. Nevertheless, compared to other advanced countries, the level of autonomic driving technology of Korea is estimated to fall behind by five to ten years. After acknowledging the importance of the self-driving car industry, the Korean government started to actively encourage the development of self-driving cars from this year. Selecting the self-driving car industry as one of the nine major future Korean projects, the government announced that it will construct K-City by 2018, which is be expected to be the largest experiment city in the world, solely for the purpose of testing self-driving cars.
Pros and Cons of Self-Driving Cars
Advantages Increased Safety
The biggest strength of self-driving cars is stability while driving. Unlike humans, self-driving cars are not affected by poor physical conditions such as drowsiness, drinking, or prolonged driving time and they can prevent emotional driving such as road rage. Since all self-driving cars can communicate with each other, accidents will decrease exponentially. Additionally, self-driving cars become safer as time passes because they accumulate an enormous amount of data while driving. As a result, numerous lives and costs can be saved. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport is expecting the mortality rate from highway traffic accidents to drop by half by 2025 owing to self-driving cars.
Self-driving cars are also superior to traditional cars in that they greatly save parking time. Currently, cars are used for only about five to ten percent out of the entire day. When self-driving cars are widely used, however, this rate will rise up to 75%. People can freely send and call back their cars when needed, so it will not be necessary to maintain the current number of cars. A research conducted by the University of Utah has shown that one self- driving car used for sharing can substitute 9.3 personal vehicles. Parking spaces, which currently occupy a tremendous space, could be also redeveloped for other productive uses.
Improvement in User’s Convenience
Another merit of self-driving cars is that they guarantee mobility rights for those with disabilities or the elderly whose accessibility to traditional cars was comparatively low. If self- driving cars become popularized, the socially disadvantaged would be the first people to enjoy their benefits. Therefore, self- driving cars are desirable in the humanitarian perspective. Self- driving cars are useful for drivers as well: because the stress from long driving hours can be avoided, they can utilize this time to relax or take care of backlogs of work. It has been found that switching traditional cars to self-driving cars saves 50 minutes of time per person every day, which can be used for other productive activities. Disadvantages Problems in Accountability
When an accident occurs, there is a dispute regarding who should take the responsibility. Since car manufacturers, software makers, and drivers are all linked closely to this problem, it is difficult to decide whom to blame. Under the current Korean law, there is a conflict between the Guarantee of Automobile Accident Compensation Act and the Product Liability Act. While the former emphasizes the driver’s liability, the latter states that the manufacturing company should make amends for the accident. This ambiguity may cause all involved parties to deny their responsibilities.
Vulnerability to Hacking
That all self-driving cars are connected to one single network implies their susceptibility to hacking. Not only could a hacking lead to a personal information leakage, but the cars might be used as tools for large-scale accidents or terrorist attacks. This July, Wired, a monthly magazine in the US, ran a simulation on the possibility of remote controlling of a self-driving car. Two expert hackers succeeded in manipulating a Jeep from 16km away, disabling the brakes and changing radio frequency. Consequently, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles conceded that there was a serious defect in the cars’ security systems and recalled more than 1.4 million cars in the US. This event raised awareness among the public and caused companies to reflect on the credibility of the automatic driving system.
Possibility of Malfunction
Although there have been many attempts to develop a flawless system, there are always diverse variables in actual driving. For now, the current automatic driving system has technical limitations in sensing objects, especially in poor weather conditions. Recently, the first death from a self-driving car accident occurred because of a system error in one of Tesla’s models. It was reported that the system has mistaken a white trailer for a clear sky. Furthermore, if the software is not updated regularly, it will not be able to cope with changing road conditions. Automobile companies are also admitting that further study must be conducted before drivers can completely rely on the car.
Even though a heated controversy continues on, self-driving cars have come one step closer to people’s everyday lives. It seems that this car has uplifted the car industry to a completely different level. To become a truly “human-friendly” car, however, a solution for the remaining risks still needs to be contemplated in every aspect. Hopefully, self-driving cars will work as a safe and helpful companion on the road in the near future.
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