What’s the Craic with Autonomous Vehicles?

Here in Glasgow things are starting to get back to normal after all the Commonwealth Games festivities. As spectacular and pride inducing as the Games were for the residents of Scotland (and Glasgow in particular), we couldn’t help but notice the major delays in-and-around the city for drivers. Coincident with this epiphone was the UK government’s announcement that autonomous vehicles will be allowed on our roads from 2015. Naturally here at Airts we are excited by this prospect and look forward to the UK adopting this beneficial tech.

Autonomous Vehicles–for those not in the know–are cars that don’t require a driver to travel from A B. Picture the cars from Spielberg’s 2002 Minority Report or Proyas’ 2004 iRobot; essentially it’s the future but with no PreCrime police and less killer robots with a sunny disposition. The cars still require a lot of trial drives… so it’s not quite the future but it’s a first step in the right direction.

Why are we so excited about all this? Well there are two reasons: firstly, we believe computers should make things simpler (we can extend that belief to computers making things better, more efficient, and safer). Secondly, a lot of clever AI technology has gone into making these cars a reality and that’s pretty bitchin’ (as they say on “the street”).

Simpler

Autonomous cars will make driving a simpler, less stressful, and–perhaps–far more enjoyable experience for drivers. Though it does raise the question of whether we’d still call them “drivers”? Take, for example, the sometimes arduous task of navigating when in a foreign country. With autonomous cars tourists will be able to: rent a car (potentially with no worries about licences), select their language, select a destination, press go, and sit back and relax whilst taking in the scenery. No longer will tourists get lost in the middle of a vineyard in the south of France, or get in the way of residents in the busy streets of Edinburgh city.

Better

Congestion is a real problem here in the UK and, indeed, in many nations abroad. The phenomenon of “phantom jams” comes to mind. These are where drivers suddenly find themselves in heavy traffic for no perceivable reason. These phantom jams are caused by motorists breaking too sharply, taking too long to get moving at a roundabout, etc. This slight slip in reaction time can have knock-on effects for miles and thus cause phantom jams.

Autonomous vehicles won’t suffer from the same reaction issues as we meagre humans. Faster reactions from autonomous vehicles will lead to a better experience.

Efficient

Faster reaction times will also lead to faster journeys and better fuel economy. Sitting idle, poor gear changes, and over revving (though sounding awesome) decreases fuel efficiency. Our blue dot could greatly benefit from better fuel efficiency and less cars on the road. Autonomous vehicles will be a huge step in the right direction and, as these are modern cars, most will be electric. The latest Google prototype, is a fully electric car and shows great promise in field tests.

Safer

Autonomous cars remove the human element from the equation. Some people fear this idea, and fair enough it is kinda creepy seeing a car drive around with no one at the wheel. However the majority, if not all, road accidents are caused by human error. Fatigue, lack of ability, stress, road rage, drunkenness are all issues with the human element of driving. Autonomous vehicles can’t go for a night on the town, they don’t get angry (ssh Skynet isn’t going to happen), they can’t get stressed, their ability is top notch and fatigue is resolved with a simple recharge of the battery. Removing the human element of control will save lives – fact.

Airts welcome the creature that is the autonomous vehicle to our streets and we hope to sink our teeth into some VRP for them in the future. Humans may not be driving the car but we’ll certainly be writing the software to help it along.

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