• Rohan Mukherjee

How will autonomous cars deal with road rage?

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

Discussing the possibility of autonomous cars tackling with intricate human errors.

step into your self-driving car with humans, are they perhaps, at par?

In 1888, people of Baden-Württemberg (a state in southwest Germany) had seen what they believed was the work of some kind of devil, and no, it wasn’t pineapple pizza. In fact, they had seen Bertha Benz driving the first petrol ‘production’ vehicle developed by her husband Karl Benz. She was the first person to undertake a journey of about 106 kilometres in a car. So people who saw her on the streets in this horseless carriage moving without any visible force, were bewildered. One hundred and thirty years later, we now have the same reaction that the people of Baden-Württemberg had back in 1888 when we see a driverless car on the road. Yes, autonomous cars are here, and we’re not quite sure if they’re here to stay.

Are we ready to shift gears?

In this case, the first question we must ask ourselves is, ‘are driverless cars really necessary’, and secondly, ‘is the human race ready to include driverless car romances on the ‘silver screen’? Seemingly, the benefits of autonomous vehicles are the disadvantages of a human driven car - human error, and the risk of roadside accidents that come along with it. Logically, if the driver is at fault for most of the cases of roadside accidents, then artificial intelligence must obviously be the solution. But there’s more to that. As of today, these are the top causes of roadside accidents:

  • Distracted Driving

  • Drunk/Intoxicated Driving

  • Speeding

  • Reckless Driving

  • Rain

  • Running Red Lights

  • Night Driving

  • Design Defects

  • Tailgating

  • Wrong-Way Driving/ Improper Turns

  • Underaged Drivers:

  • Potholes

  • Tire Blowouts

  • Animal Crossings

  • Construction Sites

If we consider the above causes of accidents, roughly 65% of them are human induced - the rest are a combination of environment, sudden obstacles and technological failure. If driverless cars are removing human error out of the equation, that still leaves a gaping 30% - 35% of the other causes of accidents unresolved. So not exactly a fool-proof solution, yet. Because we understand, that as is the nature of innovation, technology will improve to meet all inconveniences as we move forward - the market does throw solutions, when life gives you lemons.

Apart from these problems, there’s one more flaw in the concept, and that is these cars can be hacked. You don’t want someone else taking over your car’s system, when you have cringeworthy tracks in your playlist - but, if only saving yourself from embarrassment was the only concern! For developers and hackers dealing with car apps like that of Tesla, merely looking at the apps' code alone can reveal how car thieves could exploit their features - while the black market has already taken interest. The deep web is littered with offers to buy and sell connected car app credentials including usernames and passwords, as well as PIN numbers and Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) for different makes and models of car. The going rate is hundreds of dollars per account.

Are there any pros at all?

But, to the autonomous car lobby’s defence, roads are unsafe. Road accidents are one of the most common causes of deaths in the world. Nearly 1.3 million people die every year in road accidents. On an average, that’s 3,287 deaths per day. Imagine your friends and family stepping out of their homes and not returning because either they were in a hurry, or some d*ckhead ran a redlight, drunk, while checking to see if his d*ckhead mates did a shoey on snapchat.. And with sophisticated technologies like LIDAR, GPS, odometry, along with some other advanced control systems, companies plan to make autonomous cars the solution to prevent deaths caused on the road. But it’s not that simple, at least for now.

Of course, autonomous vehicles would dramatically reduce the number of road deaths and, being electric, reduce harmful emissions in places with clean grids. Designing an efficient urban infrastructure with clever routing, closer spacing between vehicles and dynamic congestion-charging can cut traffic considerably. Similar to the arrival of modern cars, AVs will reshape cities (a long commute is easier if you work or sleep en route) and redefine retailing (drive-ins & drive-throughs).

Data, facts and stats?

An Economist article states that UBS, the bank, believes urban car ownership to fall by 70% by 2050. Cars today sit unused 95% of the time, so reallocation of urban land wasted on parking space can be seen as an immediate positive effect of global communities switching to robotaxis. Cities like Melbourne with a rising percentage of homelessness can benefit from this too. The percentage of lower income citizens being able to afford rental homes is 6% today - which around 10 years ago, used to be 25% - with increase in urban space, more land can be dedicated to shelters and social housing facilities. The need for this is almost urgent, since projections that 105,000 people Australia-wide will experience homelessness, including 23,000 Victorians as per the 2017 census. In a nutshell, driverless-ness can be the cure for homelessness.

Also, public transportation is bound to change drastically as well. Manufacturers are about to move, en masse, from Level 3 (cars that are automated, but need human intervention) to Level 4 (doesn’t need human intervention at all) , which, according to the various levels of autonomy, means that vehicles will become fully autonomous but limited to an 'operation design domain'. The regulatory environment for cars is naturally set to change to enable the introduction of Level 4 and Level 5 cars (enabled to cruise through difficult terrain without any human help) and it'll be an ongoing task for governments - predominantly states in the Australian context - to keep pace with the innovation that each manufacturer produces.

Nvidia is one of the leading companies providing a unique way to test these cars by simulating detailed real-world scenarios for car computers to learn from. And the company considers safety as the single most important thing to work on if autonomous cars are to be the future of transportation. In March, incidents involving autonomous driving caused the deaths of two people in the USA. One of them was an Apple engineer driving the Tesla Model X which was in autopilot mode when it crashed, and the other was a pedestrian killed by Uber’s self-driving car. Both these cases have had a considerable impact on the self-driving car industry. Uber put a halt on testing autonomous cars in North America, while Tesla put up a blog post detailing the events of the tragic accident (almost the same reactions right?). So, things aren’t looking good on that front for autonomous cars - As the bill passed by the House of Representatives in the US nearly a year ago, is still stuck in the senate pending approval.

Let’s look at the bright side!

For the first time in human history, most of us live in urban settlements – from megacities of 10-20 million, of which there were 28 in 2014, to medium-sized cities of 1-5 million (417 in 2014), and smaller settlements (525 of between 500,000 and one million people in 2014). Looking ahead, the biggest growth will occur not in megacities but these small- and medium-sized cities. With the advent of the cars of today, cities in the 60s learnt to create infrastructure that covers long distances for private vehicles. Rules and laws were modified to incorporate a fast paced lifestyle (imagine seatbelts and inflatable bags being popularly introduced just 2-3 decades back) - so we have come a long way since Bertha Benz drove her horseless carriage, and as we continue to learn as a human specie, we will certainly mould our ways to give way to autonomous vehicles. Less resistance, more persistence!



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