We Are Still Years Away From Truly Self-Driving Cars

It’s been a long time since we heard that self-driving cars will be the thing of the future. However, we have yet to see self-driving automobiles become common in 2021.

In 2015, Elon Musk was so confident that self-driving cars were the vehicles we would be using in the future that he said we would see them everywhere within the next 2 to 3 years. 

But in 2018, Wayno CEO John Krafcik wasn’t so confident and said that self-driving cars will take longer than expected. 

Even though many CEOs and investors claim that we will be seeing self-driving cars soon, a lot of studies suggest otherwise. 

There has been over $80 billion invested into self-driving car technology and yet many scholars believe that it may take many years or decades before we even see this being a practical technology in every car. Many believe that we might not even see this without some major breakthrough in artificial intelligence. 

It’s sad to see because just two years ago in 2019, musk said we would be seeing self-driving cars being used by Tesla for their taxi services by 2020. 

Chart: Where People Are Warming Up To Self-Driving Cars | Statista

So why don’t we have self-driving cars yet? 

The answer is artificial intelligence or AI. 

Self-driving cars cannot just be programmed to drive by themselves. They have to be paired with an AI. The AI well “drive the car.” The AI needs to learn how to drive the car like a human. This involves learning how to avoid obstacles, drive within the speed limit, obey traffic laws, and not causing the passenger or other people on the road any harm. The AI needs to do all of this while driving the car which may not seem hard to us but it might be hard to make a computer do all of this. 

Even Elon musk tweeted out saying “A major part of real-world AI has to be solved to make unsupervised, generalized full self-driving work.”

Why don’t we see more self-driving cars we have now on the road? 

Tesla is one of the companies that has a fully automated self-driving car. 

But it’s truly not self driving. 

Until recently, most of these self-driving Tesla could not be driven on normal roads. Other than the highway, the car could not self-drive anywhere. 

Also, we’ve seen a lot of these cars involved in horrific accidents. Even though Tesla claims that the car is self-driving, they also warned that you do not turn on the car and let it drive itself while you are asleep or doing other things. 

Right now self-driving technology works very similar to autopilot on a plane. Everyone has heard the term that planes pretty much fly themselves. Even though this is true and a plane can fly at a certain altitude with a certain speed while heading in a certain direction, it cannot predict obstacles in order to avoid them and cannot automatically stop or change directions without the pilot’s help. This is exactly how self-driving works right now. Even though the car can keep its speed and direction while being able to avoid obstacles and obey some traffic laws, it cannot drive without a driver present making sure everything is running smoothly just in case something goes wrong. 

So how do we get self-driving cars on the road? 

Even though artificial technology is there to make a self-driving car practical, the technology is not able to learn driving as a human would. 

When you first learn to drive, you have to go through driving school. After you get your permit, you have to spend hours and hours for a whole year or more practicing how to drive in different situations before you can even try to get your driver’s license. 

So we cannot expect a car (or a computer) to self-drive without going through a similar process. 

The best way to train self-driving cars is to feed the artificial intelligence with lots of training data. For example, we could show the car billions of hours of footage of real driving which would teach the computer how to drive, how to obey the rules, and do this all with good driving behavior. 

But again this is very easy to say but hard to do. Collecting this type of data has become very expensive for self-driving car companies. 

However, this is something that can be solved over time. As more self-driving cars roam the streets, they learn and communicate with one another to make self-driving behavior better. Companies are also teaching their cars using simulators and other engineering methods in order for them to be well trained. 

What’s next? 

We might not all be able to own and have a self-driving car soon. But more companies are leaning towards being able to have these self-driving taxis. Companies like Uber and Lyft are investing heavily into self-driving technology so they can implement it into their business which would make ridesharing much easier and even more affordable than it is right now. 

Self-driving cars will come just like planes being able to fly themselves. It might not happen in the timeline that we previously set for ourselves. It might not also be a hundred percent self-driving like we see in the movies or science fiction. But we will see self-driving cars in the future. 

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