Google first began developing its line of driverless cars back in 2009. After eight years of testing, driverless cars are finally hitting the market with Wayno, Arizona becoming the first city to allow drivers to use them on city streets.
Google and other driverless car manufacturers believed that designing the vehicles will be the biggest challenge. However, we are starting to discover other issues that need to be addressed. Our current infrastructure may not be suitable for a new generation of autonomous cars.
What changes need to be made before our roads are ready for driverless cars? Here are some improvements that will be needed.
Preparing cars for irregular conditions such as emergencies and work zones
Driverless cars need to be capable of dealing with a number of irregular conditions where a human traffic controller is present. Work zones and emergencies are among the most common. We don’t have enough data yet to understand how driverless cars will react to these situations.
New technology needs to be built into our roads to address these issues. 3M and the Michigan Department of Transportation have collaborated on a project that will solve some of these challenges. Smart grids may also help tackle the challenges.
Improving visibility of road markings and signs
Driverless cars rely on digital cameras and infrared sensors to observe their surroundings. They can process road markings and signs to understand speed limits and lane usage requirements.
The problem is that they can’t read them as easily as human drivers. This can create a problem if signs are obstructed by growing foliage or lane markings are fading. Artificial intelligence allows driverless cars to make educated guesses by extrapolating what information is visible. Unfortunately, their estimates are more limited than human users.
The only way to address this concern is by making all necessary improvements. Municipalities must keep the road is clearly marked and enhance the visibility of all signs. They may even need to make some signs larger, especially on roads where cars will be driving more quickly. It may take longer for driverless cars to process and register the regulation specified on a particular sign. This could be even more difficult if cars are driving at higher speeds. Until AI and sensing technology are improved, they may need to be larger.
Better adapting roads for inclement weather
Snow, sleet and other poor driving conditions can be hazardous for any driver. Many technology pundits expect that computer operated vehicles will handle these conditions better. Unfortunately, we can’t be sure how they will respond until they are put on the road.
Many driverless cars have been tested in California, Arizona and other warm climates. We don’t have enough data to determine how they will handle winter driving. Preliminary data so far shows that the early generations of autonomous cars are struggling to handle even fairly flat terrain during bad weather.
Chris Gerdes, a Stanford mechanical engineering professor and the current director of the Center for Automotive Research, told Marketplace’s Molly Wood that this is a serious concern that must be addressed.
“It is a real problem. And the way to think about weather is it just makes all of the tasks of automated driving a little bit more challenging. It makes it a little bit harder to see. Your sensors work a little less well. The vehicle has less ability to move. The friction between the tire and the road is reduced, so it's more likely that dramatic maneuvers could cause the vehicle to go into a spin. So it makes all of the problems a little bit harder and forces you to be a little bit more conservative in all of these ways.”
While Gerdes raised a valid point about the need to improve sensors to handle weather related problems, addressing road conditions will be equally important. If automated cars struggle to operate during bad weather, the roads will need to be renovated to ensure better driving conditions year-round.
About the Author: Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. Chamber specializes in helping small businesses grow their business on the web while facilitating the connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. As a small business expert, Megan specializes in reporting the latest business news, helpful tips and reliable resources, as well as providing small business advice. She has significant experience with the topic of small business marketing, and has spent several years exploring topics like copywriting, content marketing and social media.
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