Autobahn, Germany. Hana Highway, Maui. Pacific Coast Highway. Tianmen Mountain Winding Road, China. Tichka, Morocco. Furka Pass, Switzerland.
All roads are not created the same, and autonomous cars will not be able to maneuver every street punched into its GPS. Consider a tourist’s San Francisco rental car, on its way to the most popular city sights. The most lauded sights will be on the itinerary, and invariably, that’s likely to include the world’s most crooked street, the uneven brick-paved Lombard Street. Would you even dare attempt it? What if that tourist car was scheduled to head east, to view the deep icy blue waters of Lake Tahoe? There may be a chilly winter wind in San Francisco, but now consider copious amounts of snow.
Now imagine that car as self-driving.
The autonomous vehicle technology company TomTom has just announced a new product, RoadCheck, which according to press materials, “directly addresses partner and customer pain points when it comes to creating safer autonomous driving experiences in inclement weather conditions, areas with poor signals (i.e. tunnels) and during road disruption from roadwork.”
In other words, RoadCheck allows carmakers to manage where it is safe for drivers to activate automated driving functions.
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TomTom, a mapping service-supplier for safe-driving automation has combined elements of level-four vehicle-autonomy (near fully-autonomous vehicles) with a level-two system that can make lane changes, as well as exits off a highway ramp.
Safe automated-driving has been hampered by adverse weather, poor satellite signal (e.g. in tunnels, by tall buildings, and under tree canopies), as well as in changing environments, such as construction, repaving, and general road repair. RoadCheck uses TomTom’s high definition (HD) map data to define the operational design domain (ODD) of a vehicle’s automated-driving functions.
(Not) getting behind the wheel
Consumers, it appears, while wary of the potential problems of self-driving cars, are chomping at the bit for them to become a part of daily life. In July, Tesla founder Elon Musk said there will be fully autonomous vehicles “very soon.” In February 2019, the UK Department for Transport stated it wants to see fully autonomous cars, driving without any human oversight, as well cars without steering wheels tested on UK roads by the end of 2021. The UK’s enthusiasm is such that it’s estimated the UK market for connected and automated vehicles will be worth £52b ($81,298,564,313 US) by 2035.
Economical and ecological
A very recent report from IOPscience discovered that even with “just a small number of autonomous vehicles (AVs) on the road, traffic flow can become faster, greener, and safer in the near future.”
IOPscience researchers found AVs “can cooperate and significantly enhance traffic-flow even when fewer than 5% of the vehicles on the road are autonomous.” The researchers further described how on freeways, AVs should self-organize into groups that “split the traffic-flow into controllable clusters,” and added, “It was observed that it takes less than two minutes to achieve self-organized high-speed, greener, and safer traffic flow when starting from congested traffic.”
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AVs are safer and environmentally sound, and IOPscience researchers revealed “a substantial increase of up to 40% in traffic flow speed,” with up to a money-saving “28% decrease in fuel consumption.”
Also, traffic will become more ordered–and safe–with fewer lane transitions. The IOPscience study shows that these improvements can be achieved without a central agent that governs AVs and without communication between AVs using current infrastructure.”
Ironing out the kinks
AV tech suffered significant setbacks when AVs were involved in two fatalities in March 2018, one in Arizona and one in California.
Other concerns that challenge autonomous vehicles:
- Because lane use and markings vary throughout the world, cars will need to be programmed to drive appropriately and to regulations, based on the country.
- The learning curve: Humans will have to learn to operate/behave when functional fully automatic cars are in place; they’ve been known to assume an AV is parked, and they double park; they walk in front of them unceremoniously. Humans’ assumptions will need to shift.
- Humans like to be in the driver’s seat, literally. An AAA survey suggested 73% of Americans are too afraid to ride in a fully-automated vehicle.
There are plans for TomTom RoadCheck to be deployed in a global car manufacturer’s production model in 2021, starting in the US.