Huge advances toward fully autonomous vehicles have been made in recent years and it is clear that they will change our daily lives forever. Vehicles that drive themselves to varying degrees already exist on the road today and will only become more common. Car manufacturers are working hard on creating autonomous models that are both sustainable and can be released into society as soon as possible. In fact, there are already examples of larger vehicles that have made their debut on public highways. Semi-trucks, buses, and other vehicles whose primary job is to deliver goods over long distances will very quickly be affected by the automation, and are a great starting point to developing these self-driving vehicles.
There are already a few prototypes on the road from different companies that wish to be innovators and leaders in this industry. After three years of development, one of the leading Chinese bus manufacturers Yutong sent the prototype of a self-driving city bus on a 32 km long circuit on an intercity road between Zhengzhou and Kaifeng. The bus drove the path in normal traffic without any human help. It reached a peak speed of 68 km/h and passed 26 traffic lights and was able to switch lanes and pass other vehicles autonomously. The bus uses a variety of sensors, lasers, radar, and camera systems in order for the bus to travel safely. This is a major accomplishment and evidently positions Yutong as a contender for innovative autonomous driving.
More recently, in April 2016, a fleet of self-driving trucks completed a cross-continent expedition. The European Truck Platooning Challenge involved trucks from six different manufacturers traveling in small convoys. ‘Platooning’ is a term used when trucks autonomously follow one another. A driver in the lead vehicle of each convoy sets the speed and the route, using a Wi-Fi connection to keep their braking and acceleration in sync while the other trucks follow automatically. Once the route is set, the driver does not necessarily have to drive the lead truck. Instead, he can sleep, read, or occupy his time in other ways while overseeing the trip. If the truck reaches a point where it is not confident in its autonomous abilities (i.e. bad weather), it will alert the driver and shut down within 5 seconds if not taken over manually. Platooning offers a slightly different approach to autonomous vehicles than the Chinese approach; it still requires and involves the use of a lead driver to supervise.
Both approaches to self-driving vehicles are evidently already being tested in order to implement them into society in the near future. Whether it is a single bus or a platoon of trucks, they offer different ways for our society to grow and become more efficient. Ideas turn into reality with these prototypes, and will be worked on relentlessly until a perfect model is produced and ready to be phased into the public. However, these new technological advances come with a shift in our cultural norms and practices. How will driverless cars ultimately affect daily life?
So What Does This Have To Do With Windshields?
Your imagination is the limit – what would you do with all that space if your windshield won’t need to be completely transparent all the time?
Technology will inevitably step in and could include features such as electrochromic tinting so they can be darkened for sleep or a large built in display for entertainment or work purposes. The possibilities are numerous. No matter how you look at it, the features that self driving cars put into windshields in order to function combined with the desire for consumer gadgets mean that your windshield will only become more complex.
Organizations that are working on driverless vehicles include (but may not be limited to):
- Delphi Automotive
- Daimler (with DAF, Iveco, MAN, Scania, and Volvo Trucks)
- Jaguar/Land Rover
- PSA (Peugeot, Citroën and DS)
- Tata Elixsi
Autonomous cars should rid driving of human error; say goodbye to drunk driving, speeding, and reckless driving. This means fewer collisions, and ultimately less injuries and fatalities related to car crashes. In 2010, it was estimated that 2,541 individuals were killed in motor vehicle crashes in Canada. A significant portion of that number is credited to drunk drivers and situations that could have been avoided. Self-driving vehicles offer yet another option for people to be safe and proactive after a night of drinking.
What will come first?
The first vehicles to be released as autonomous will be large vehicles such as semi-trucks used mainly for long journeys. Removal of the requirement for drivers to actively monitor the vehicle at all times (or having a couple people rotate and supervise a whole platoon) will diminish driver fatigue. Driver fatigue is a sizable concern and can decrease reaction time, affect judgement, and can even result in erratic driving. Eliminating human drivers over extended periods of time should eliminate this danger completely. Therefore, companies will be able to allocate their resources and human capital in a manner that is simultaneously proactive in reducing accidents while increasing the availability of these resources for other anticipated investments or expenditures.
With cars adhering to the correct pace of lanes, speed limits, and the rules of the road, it allows for more streamlined traffic. Routes will be pre-calculated and used effectively and efficiently (no more getting lost, or needing a GPS to help you get around). Cars will be able to disperse effectively around the city and select alternate routes during rush hour times, so major traffic jams will become a figment of history. The overall flow of traffic will be much more fluid and easier to navigate.
Parking in dense and populated areas such as downtown will no longer take unreasonable amounts of time. Simply send your car away to park elsewhere, or to pick up another person for their daily commute. Traffic will be able to flow easily downtown because there may not be a need for roadside parking or meters. Consequently, car owners will no longer need to pay for fines, meters, or parking passes as an additional benefit.
Self-driving cars allow people who had previously been unable to drive to experience some degree of independence and increased mobility. An aging population and people with disabilities, blindness, or other ailments can travel alone feeling safe and comfortable knowing that their vehicle is acting in their best interests.
Buy less vehicles
As briefly stated above, cars will be able to be shared among friends, family members, or even an entire community. Once you have reached your destination, you can send the car away to pick up a friend. Public transportation will still exist, but may take on the idea of shared vehicles as a major transportation development. Driverless cars offer yet another option for transportation around the city so residents will have multiple methods for travel. Estimated arrival times will be much more accurate, removing the ambiguity of using public transportation.