Where is Self-Driving Car Technology at Right Now?

Self-driving cars are vehicles that can sense environmental data and react accordingly with little or no human interaction. These cars are still in the beginning phases of development and testing with several models offering various levels of driving automation. These automated vehicles are rated in levels according to their abilities. Level 0 is No Automation, Level 1 is Driver Assistance, Level 2 is Partial Automation, Level 3 is Conditional Automation, Level 4 is High Automation, and Level 5 is Full Automation. 

Level 4

Currently, there are two major players in the market for Level 4 vehicles: Alphabet’s Waymo and GM’s Self-Driving Bolt. Tesla has the capability installed in some vehicles but not on a fully functional level yet. Level 4 vehicles only operate in full self-driving mode in certain, geocentric-predetermined areas. These cars are used for delivery and for ride-sharing services.

The Waymo vehicles have been operating as “driver-free” cars for some time now, but there is always a test driver on hand in case of unsafe situations. These cars are running in Phoenix, Arizona, and they have recently been approved to drive in California. The Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan and the Jaguar I-PACE electric car are the vehicles currently being operated under the Alphabet umbrella. 

It’s Still Not Perfect

While this technology is certainly intriguing and exciting, it still has problems being considered a marketable option for the average consumer. One large problem is the confusion the AI has when the cars are operated in inclement weather, such as in heavy rain or snow. The sensors and cameras do not work as expected because of the reflected light from the moisture. One solution is the use of radar for reading beneath the road surface. However, this would add another layer of cost, time, and complexity, and it would be less feasible in rural, sparsely populated areas.

Other problems are the continued unexpected issues that can surface in anything mechanical. Last year Tesla’s Autopilot feature was repeatedly reported as making unexpected lane changes and swerves. These types of issues can be elusive and hard to track.

Still a Long Way to Go

Despite all the promises, it is extremely unlikely that there will be truly autonomous cars in 2020. The self-driving cars we have currently are partially self-driving and have a test driver for safety reasons. They also can only operate in geo-locations of mapped driving information. However, the race is on to be the first, and it shouldn’t be too long before the first fully automated vehicles are on the road.

It is assured that sometime and somewhere in the near future there will be truly autonomous vehicles on the road. There is some thought as to whether eventually this will mean the death of privately owned vehicles and if people will pay for the services instead. Either way, exciting times truly lie ahead.

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