Fred Flintstone couldn’t imagine anything like it.
While he and Barney get their cars around with their bare feet, in the real world we’re getting closer and closer to our cars doing all the driving for us.
Yes, we realise Fred Flintstone is a cartoon character—but you get the point: cars that literally do everything to get you from point A to point B are closer than you think.
According to this report by The Economist, the technology is advancing at such a rate that fully-autonomous vehicles (or ‘AVs,’ naturally) are just around the corner … and they’ll be driving around that corner with their passengers paying zero attention to the road.
But the technology is a little more advanced than Fred chauffeuring you around via a hole in the floor. Yep, there are all kinds of cool gadgets being developed that mean you can catch up on some sleep while ‘driving’ to work.
The self-driving cars combine three critical pieces of technology to achieve their independent ways. Firstly, they use cameras to ‘see’ things like line markings and road signs; radar to measure distance and velocity; plus an advancement called ‘LIDAR’ (Light Detection and Ranging), which picks up any finer details for precise driving.
Autonomous Vehicles will combine data from all three components of this intricate puzzle, and use it to undertake a safe journey accounting for everything they could encounter—such as other vehicles and pedestrians.
However, the technology is still lacking when it comes to identifying anything ‘out of the ordinary.’ For example, LIDAR still gets confused by snow and puddles; and early in Google’s AV project the “perception module could not distinguish a plastic bag from a flying child.”
Autonomous Vehicles currently use a ranking system from level 1 to level 4—the higher the number, the greater the autonomy. Audi has unveiled the first level 3 car this year, and other companies are shooting for level 4 before too long.
But, as no great surprise, there are plenty of arguments for and against the implementation of Autonomous Vehicles into society.
The primary case against the technology is that driving requires – and will always require – the diligence of a human mind.
The absence of humanity is a consistent argument about the dangers of artificial intelligence; you just need to delve into the work of Isaac Asimov to see it’s not a new concern.
Safety, however, is one of the major arguments for the technology. Part of the design methodology is for an Autonomous Vehicle to shut down if it drives – or is driven – erratically.
But whichever side you’re on, Autonomous Vehicles are probably inevitable. Human beings love advancement as much as they love to be lazy.
Furthermore, the automotive industry has never been one to remain stationary—cars are, after all, designed to take us places.
We also have no doubt that “Doc” and Marty McFly would approve. Without a doubt, we’re getting further away from Fred Flintstone and a lot closer to going back to the future.