Motor vehicle accidents cause 1.2 million deaths every year and over 90% of accidents are caused by human error. So self driving cars should be safer than human motorists.
The mega-company Google is pushing self-driving car innovation in the US. They have been testing a number of different models including the adorable little Google car (see image), the Toyota Prius, the Audi TT and Lexus SUVs. These tests are now being done on the road amidst regular human-driven traffic. The self-driving cars have a number of different sensors including cameras, radar and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) units that feed information into software to allow the car to detect and avoid obstacles like other cars or pedestrians. For now, Google cars drive like old ladies – their top speed is 25 miles per hour and they pause for 1.5 seconds after a traffic light turns green. This hasn’t stopped them from being involved in 11 accidents, most of which were caused by human drivers rear ending the autonomous cars. This is probably because most of us don’t drive like robot old-ladies which begs the question ‘How well will autonomous and human-driven cars drive together on the road?’
Audi also has its own autonomous car – an A7 called Jack. They anticipate putting this technology into production cars within the next five years.
But will the UK get there first? They have tested driverless pods in the towns of Milton Keynes and Coventry. The pods have panoramic cameras, laser imaging, and radar to help them navigate the streets. This is part of the Autodrive project which is backed by £20m in funding from the UK government.
It seems autonomous cars will be part of our future. The question is no longer if, but when will they be for sale. And how much will they cost?