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Self-driving cars are no longer an alien concept or a dream of the future. The question isn’t whether they’ll revolutionize the way we drive; it’s when. Dozens of automakers and tech companies are in the process of developing self-driving, or fully-autonomous, cars. And some are closer than you might realize. For all of those technology and car enthusiasts out there or those of you who can’t wait to relinquish the wheel, we’ll give you the latest info on the state of self-driving technology.
Are Self-Driving Cars Safe?
Although fully autonomous cars won’t hit the commercial market for a few years, you’re probably wondering about the safety factors. Well, there’s good news on this front so far. After the first known fatal crash in 2016 of a Tesla Autopilot-enabled car (a semi-autonomous model), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation found the causes of all of the accidents as driver error. A subsequent U.S. Department of Transportation report found that crash rates were 40% lower for Tesla vehicles equipped with the first-generation Autopilot system.
As of mid-2016, Google’s fleet of autonomous cars covered more than 1 million miles with only 16 accidents. Reviews found that human error, not the self-driving car, was the cause of every accident. And years of research indicates that the best autonomous cars that will hit the commercial market could reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90 percent by mid-century.
What’s the Best Self-Driving Car?
We’re still a few years away from commercially-available, completely self-driving cars. But there are many semi-autonomous models already available. So what’s the best self-driving car these days? Keep reading for some recommendations.
Tesla Self-Driving Car
Tesla appears to be ahead of the pack in terms of rolling out the most advanced autopilot technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has claimed that a fully autonomous car could be available by 2018, pending regulatory approval. And the company seems to be on target. In late 2016, Telsa launched its Level 2 Autopilot system, Enhanced Autopilot, which comes equipped in all of their new cars. What does the new Tesla Autopilot give you? Here are some key features:
- New Tesla cars have eight 360-degree cameras with 820 feet of range. Previous Autopilot-enabled models had only one camera.
- Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement the field of view and can detect both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system.
- The Tesla car’s one radar sensor now has enhanced processing that can “see” through fog, heavy rain, dust, and even through a car in front of it.
- New Tesla cars also use Nvidia’s Drive PX2, a new onboard computer system with more than 40 times the computing power of the previous system. Telsa says this new system provides “a view of the world that a driver alone cannot access, seeing in every direction simultaneously, and on wavelengths that go far beyond the human senses.”
Although the new cars incorporate all of this self-driving hardware, Tesla is rolling out the software’s capabilities incrementally. While within reach, the fully autonomous functionality isn’t available yet — it’s dependent on Tesla’s extensive software testing and regulatory approval.
So, what will a Tesla driverless car be able to do? The car will be capable of matching its speed to traffic conditions, automatically changing lanes, merging on and off highways, maneuvering around more complex road conditions and environments and parking itself, all without driver input.
Mercedes Self-Driving Car
Mercedes-Benz premiered its fully autonomous car concept in early 2015 to much fanfare. Keep in mind; the F 015 Driverless Car is many years away. But check out the following video as a New York Times reporter takes a joy ride in this promising prototype.
For now, Mercedes offers an optional, newly-enhanced semi-autonomous system in its new E-Class models. The Intelligent Drive Driving Assistant package gives you semi-automated driving on highways and in city traffic, autonomous braking, and active assistance with evasive maneuvers. Some features include:
- A multi-purpose stereo camera and new radar sensors around the vehicle help the car detect and orientate itself on road markings, the vehicle in front and also its surroundings. This technology helps drivers automatically stay in their lane, avoid front-end collisions and sense oncoming traffic.
- Active Brake Assist, which uses the camera and sensors to detect whether the vehicle in front is slowing down, stopping or is stationary. When the system detects a risk of collision, it first sets off a collision warning. If the driver doesn’t respond quickly, the system automatically initiates autonomous braking. The same process activates for cross traffic and pedestrian activity.
- Active Lane Keeping Assist helps stop the driver from unintentionally changing lanes.
- Active Blind Spot Assist warns of the risk of a lateral collision and likewise correctively intervenes at the last moment to prevent a collision.
- PRE-SAFE® PLUS protects against collisions with traffic following behind.
Are Other Self-Driving Cars in the Works?
Several noteworthy self-driving car pioneers have decided to go for the gold rather than working their way through the semi-autonomous process that Tesla, Mercedes and others are taking. The most notable is probably Google’s Waymo, a concept that gained traction in 2012. Instead of slowly building upon semi-autonomous technology, Waymo’s design takes drivers out of the equation — think, no steering wheel, no pedals, and no human driver backup. Volvo and its engineers are also working on skipping the self-autonomous steps to focus on creating a fully automated car.
Regardless of the current technology and production stages, self-driving cars will begin to be big players in the auto industry, for sure. By 2020, more than 10 million self-driving cars will be hitting the pavement, according to Business Intelligence estimates. Other researchers project that fully autonomous cars will account for more than 15 percent of all vehicles sold in 2030. What comes next? A “Back to the Future” DeLorean that offers time travel? We can only hope.
Why are you considering purchasing a self-driving car?