Perhaps one day in the future autonomous cars will be a regular part of our roads, but according to engineers and IT experts at the ITS World Congress in Tokyo last week, that day is not today.
In the latest car craze, ones that can drive themselves have been all the rage, with purported advantages like more safety and using less fuel amongst the top reasons why engineers continue to try and make a model that could be viable on city streets. Nissan, for example, has created an experimental, autonomous version of its electric Leaf vehicle, equipping it with multiple radar lasers, sensors and cameras that are meant to monitor the car’s surroundings and plot its course.
However, this one prototype exemplifies the major challenges autonomous cars face. CEO of Continental Japan, Christoph Hagedorn, told Automotive News the biggest concern is that, “millions of different driving situations are faced (and) there are so many driving scenarios, it will probably require years of validation” before the cars can safely be put onto roadways.
Because autonomous technologies rely on Wi-Fi networks to control them as they navigate down a street, it creates the largest list of unknowns. There needs to be a constant, massive data stream of 1 gigabyte-per-minute monitoring of all aspects of the vehicle, keeping it at speed, in its lane, and any number of other variables that are in direct correlation to the safety of other drivers and pedestrians.
So essentially, whether or not autonomous cars ever arrive on roads is no longer an issue for the automotive industry, but for the IT world. When an experimental autonomous Mitsubishi Outlander was doing a driving demonstration, the sensors on the vehicle failed to warn the person in the driver’s seat about unaware pedestrians or motorcycles in its blind spot.
Beyond those problems, in order for the vehicles to know about construction work underway, traffic jams, emergency vehicles, etc., there would have to be sensors and radios put up all over the world so that data could be fed into the cars. Japan already has a comparable system in place, and South Korea is planning to develop one.
But, for cities like New York, with more than 13,000 intersections that would need to be dotted, autonomous vehicles may just not be feasible.
“Do the math,” John Tipaldo, director of systems engineering at the New York City Department of Transportation, told reporters. “It means I’ve got to find a lot of money, which I don’t have. All areas have the same issue. We’re not at the forefront of this, because of the economics.”
As it stands now, even as operators of autonomous vehicles push ahead with plans, it looks to be a deadline well past 2020 that driver-less cars will be hitting the road.