We can go to the amusement park and get on a ride where we sit in a car that steers itself. Of course, there are rails built into the path to guide the car. This may seem way off base, but it makes the point that there is no infrastructure built for controlling cars. In the 1960's, Ohio State University had a project where they put electronic devices into the roadway. Railroads use a system of blocks and signalling to manage the positioning of trains. Airplanes communicate with air traffic controllers. The lack of external support means that cars would need to have sufficient electronics to make up for the lack of external support. In addition, there is also the requirement that the cars need to be in the same environment with older cars that do not have these controls and therefore might react in unexpected ways.
The statement: "it will never be as good as a human driver at coping with the unexpected on the road" has been made of just about every automation technology of any sort. I certainly heard it about cruise control back in the 1980's. I've heard it relating to autopilots in planes. I've heard it relating to auto focus in cameras. I could go on.
The auto makers and fear mongers will hang on to the fact that a self driving car will, at some point, malfunction. It will. No question. However, human driven cars malfunction. Humans malfunction. With appropriate engineering, a self driving car will likely be several orders of magnatude safer than a human driven car.
Here's what's going to happen. There will be two tracks toward fully self-driving cars.
A) The auto makers.
Little by little, more autonomous features will be added: self-parking, adaptive cruise control, auto-braking, lane following, traction control, curve following... At some point the car will be 100% capable, but the auto makers will likely require the human to remain in the loop until safety regulations dictate otherwise.
B) The hot rodders / modders
In five years or less, someone will start offering self-driving kits in the back of car magazines. In terms or regulation, these kits will be treated much the same as modded ECM ROMs are treated today: not street legal, but "I won't tell anyone you use it on the street if you don't."
A completely self parking car could lead to advances in site and building design. What I'm thinking of is an "auto-valet" mode, forgive the pun, where the user drives the car to the entrance of the building and then gets out to go about their business.
The car engages "auto-valet" and proceeds to a cars only parking lot where it finds an empty space with a combination of it's own vision system as well as pressure activated RFIDs embedded in the parking lot. Since the cars can park themselves people would be excluded from the cars only parking lot for both safety and security reasons. Once the user is finished they recall the car to the entrance using a smart-phone app and/or key fob.
"Auto-valet" equipped stores could then promote the safety, security, and convenience aspects of the system possibly driving, again sorry for the pun, up business. Data, such as the number and duration of unique visits, could also be pulled from the parking lot.
The problem of people not knowing how to drive a particular car model has some practical examples from history. Many members of the current generation do not know how to drive a car with manual transmission. Many of us who learned to drive in the last century have adapted to anti-skid brakes but might be surprised by an old car without them and take a moment to adapt when skidding on ice. Will driver's licenses in the future become a complex document which highlights the various features which a driver requires when driving and which lists the car categories for which the driver is not qualified? Driver's tests may get complicated in an autonomous vehicle world.
Gadgets, gadgets and more gadgets. More and more wiz bang and gee wiz. Once you realize that the more it has in it the more likely it is to fail.
Why not do something to cars that is really useful? How about say, 100 MPG. Impossible? Think again. It has been done and is being done. Never equate 100 MPG as 100% efficiency. I had a car that had 10.5 to 1 compression ration in a small V8 engine. It got over 20 MPG driving 65 MPH over 2 mountain passes on a 300 mile trip and passing every car in sight. The carburetor was a Holley 600 double pumper with mechanical secondaries on an Eldebrock HI-Rise intake manifold. This was a 3500 pound car, mid sixties iron. Mind you, had I been a little more conservative driving the car, it probably would have got in the high 20's. The efficiency of an Otto cycle engine is directly proportional to the pressure at the top of the cylinder, as quoted in a 1933 college book "Internal Combustion Engines". Y es, it has been known a very long time how to get high gas mileage out of a car. So, the car engine uses only about a third of the heat value of the fuel in the engine. This is because a third goes out of the exhaust, a third out the radiator. Every thing the car does is powered by that 33%. Wow, how inefficient! The reason that the engine has a catalytic converter is because there are un-burned gasses coming out the exhaust. This is because the engine is running rich to keep the parts from getting too hot. Yes, you are putting $3.50 gas in your tank to cool the engine. Would not air or water be cheaper?
There is a thing called water injection, it was used to get our heavy bombers off the ground in WWII. It cools the combustion and prevents detonation. Not only can it prevent that it can also prevent pinging and nitrous oxides. Another thing that causes un-burned gasses to come out the exhaust is the fact we use the car engine as a variable speed prime mover. That is we use it as a means of changing the speed of the vehicle, this is very inefficient as the Otto cycle engine runs best at a single speed with a bore and stroke that insures that the fuel is burned by the bottom of the cycle, other wise, it is shoved out the exhaust. If, for example the top of the cylinder and the piston was coated with a ceramic insulating material, about half of the heat loss to the water jacket could be eliminated.
There is a property of the fuel is that the burn rate is constant, this means that at a particular engine speed it is best to advance the ignition so the burning matches the cycle. Have you ever moved the distributor of an engine while it was idling, there was this point about 30 degrees that it revved way up? So, an ideal car engine should be close to: High compression, water injected, single speed on a governor, hybrid electric drive, long stroke, lean burning, high degrees advance.
Some think the diesel engine is inherently more efficient than a gas engine, not really true. Per compression ratio the gas engine is more efficient. This is because the diesel cannot advance the ignition as the ignition is caused by heat and pressure at the top of the cycle.
So, what the auto makers really need to do is improve the gas mileage performance, so we can keep some money aside to enjoy life a little. That is, before some enterprising young person wins the lotto buys a 3D printer and starts printing cars
Well, they started printing houses, why not cars? Get a move on Detroit and others!!
Agree Susan...self-parking is a cool feature...I also see autonomous driving on highways when you go for long stretches of driving (although I never use cruise control in my car right now so even this is not certain)...but in general autonomous driving idea is going to far, although not as far Amazon's crazy drone delivery ;-)...Kris
It's too bad the automakers are so pessimistic, it means they won't try as hard as they might. And I was so looking forward to having a car that can drive itself by the time I get too old to drive.
But I understand their pessimism. Making an autonomous system flexible and robust enough to handle the unconstrained world of driving is going to take a lot of work.
Perhaps there will be an intermediate stage, such as restricting automated cars to special highways or lanes where the environment is a bit better controlled, and switching to driver control at the off-ramp.
Amen! I agree with you there. Driving can be fun. I do like the idea though of the autonomous car parking itself. That seems useful and doable. I'd love it if the car found its own parking while i run errands (Hmmm, i can see two automomous cars honking at each other over a parking space.) The self-parking seems a good thing to tackle first.
Automakers shrug as they have nothing else to do...there are banking on having more electronics content in their cars and self-driven cars are part of the vision...in my view this is technology push to solve a problem that doesn't really exist, personally I enjoy driving...Kris