October 5th, 2015
The Day You Get a Personal Chauffeur is Near
How does it feel to be able to get in your self-driven car, define your favourite destination, and then simply let the car self-drive itself home or to work? The efforts saved and eye-strain avoided is priceless! It is like having an auto-chauffeur from point A to point B. Then the car can self-drive itself back home, or drive to the garage for some maintenance work, or go for a car-wash, after dropping you off at your office, thus saving time & money for the waiting & expensive city parking fees. This is possible through an extensive use of mapping, radars, lasers, video cameras, GPS technologies, as well as ingenious machine vision, artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic, distributed computing, real-time systems and decision-making algorithms.
Today, we can buy cars that are able to park themselves, or brake for you during emergency situations, or even keep the car in the lane should you start to fall asleep at the wheel. These are piece-meal functions that assists you, but not take over the entire driving experience. As I watched the video, I get the feel that somehow completely autonomous self-drive technology is now very close to mainstream implementation. To have a car that self-drives itself relatively safely and consistently on the road without human intervention is just so exciting.
As a IT geek, the mere looking at the computer screen that illustrates the sensors and algorithms making sense of the surrounding, taking in enormously large amount of data, cross-checking and adjusting for road conditions and objects was just plain awesome. According to the participants of the self-drive experience, the car ride can in fact be even smoother and safer than some human drivers. Human drivers can be affected by lack of practice, bad habits (i.e. tail-gating, aggression) , drunkenness, sleepiness, sickness, unstable emotions and medications (such as anti-histamines, cough syrups and flu medications) that hampers judgement and compromise safety on the road. Self-drive cars, in such cases, can potentially be a safer alternative.
I can imagine that for those who are physically impaired (without a limb or two, suffering from seizures/ black-outs), visually hindered, elderly or little children, self-driven cars can bring about great convenience, cutting down the need for a human (likely a parent or grand-parent) who will need to spend time to fetch and wait for pick-up of children. You can also now send goods/stuff to your friend quickly without even being physically there, or perform a car-sharing where the car can drop people off before going back home or to a designated car-park in the suburb! Or just hop on any of these auto cars, key in the postal code/destination, and off you go! Or visit a hospital when you are not well enough to drive safely. You can re-purpose the time saved communicating with your loved ones, picking up a skill or two, exercise or just take that much needed rest/catch a wink from your long day of work on the way home.
I do recognize that there are other considerations that comes to mind – such as costs (how much do we need to pay for such a technology), reliability (what if a software bug, component/components fail suddenly), loss of jobs (taxi/bus drivers will not be needed), legal liability (who will be responsible in an accident), insurance coverage (the most stable software has lower insurance premium?), situation failures (when two or more automated cars “misbehave” at the same time, escalating to multiple dangerous situations/deaths) and security (when an unmanned car becomes a vehicle for evil intentions to crash into a target, or when a car software get “infected” by a malicious virus thus killing its occupants).
However, on the balance, this maturing technology does seemed to have a great potential in improving lives (and also disrupting life as we know now), and I can’t wait for some of these cars to be plying the streets in a few years time when the road authorities approved its use on real roads, and watch it evolve.
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