The most difficult challenge associated with technological advancement to date may be for humans to relinquish complete control of the driving experience to technology. Autonomously driven cars will use a multitude of technologies to replace the decision making processes that previously belonged to the driver.
Human error is overwhelmingly the largest contributor to road accidents and autonomous driving technology, theoretically, offers a way to reduce those errors as we move into the future. Along with improved safety, the precision of computerised reactions may allow for increased traffic flow. When humans drive cars they can be distracted or have slow reaction times leading to unnecessary or heavy braking and inconsistent acceleration - when a computer takes care of these decisions it will use thousands of tiny pieces of data to inform its actions, which is purported to lead to far greater efficiency than what humans can deliver in most cases.
One of the biggest challenges in autonomous driving technology reaching the mainstream market is the acceptance of the technology by the community at large. There has been some resistance to solely ‘robot-driven’ cars due to the concept that although data can inform thousands of micro-decisions at this stage it can’t replace the intricacies of the human brain. However, autonomous driving technology already exists to some extent in cars on the road today, with the advance of automatic braking technology, automatic parking and other automatic functions like lane detection.
In addition to road safety, as autonomous driving technology improves it will likely provide positive environmental impacts, with the opportunity to reduce emissions and introduce carpooling communities as vehicles become truly driverless. It will also be likely to improve mobility for those who don’t drive or who use other means of transport. As autonomously driving cars become more popular it’s easy to assume that the supply of places in cars will increase and with the right tools to access a space in a car you could easily find other people travelling close to your destination. Meanwhile, the number of cars needed will reduce, as will the number of car parking spaces required, as instead of your car sitting idle while you work or sleep it could be out working hard at transporting people and potentially earning extra income for its owner.
It is likely that the next improvements in autonomous driving technology will see ‘co-pilot’ and ‘autopilot’ modes which would allow the car to take over the driving of the vehicle in some circumstances, though it is probable that a driver will still need to be able to step in if there are unexpected conditions such as roadworks or damage to the road. Whilst there are still practical and safety issues to be considered before fully autonomous cars hit the road, the technology is likely to come leaps and bounds in the next few years.