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The Inside Track On Autonomous Cars

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The greatest benefit of all the tech of self-driving cars? It just might make for safer driving.

There’s a lot of talk about autonomous vehicles these days.

Sure, there are plenty of other benefits of autonomous vehicles (AV) and we’ll tackle those in a bit. But first, let’s look at the current state of driving in the US. First off, aside from the increasing traffic in nearly every conceivable freeway, arterial or intersection, traffic incidents on the rise. In fact, the New York Times recently cited a study by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization that works closely with federal auto-safety regulators, that 40,200 people died in accidents involving motor vehicles in 2016, a 6 percent rise from the year before. Further to that fact, for every death in the U.S., there are more than 100 treated in emergency rooms, with an annual cost of $33 billion.

These growing figures seem at odds with the increasing technology available in new cars these days ranging from electronic stability control systems to prevent skids, rearview cameras to prevent fender benders and pre-sense technology that warns drivers of possible hazards ahead.

So, what’s truly causing more traffic accidents than ever? The answer is distracted driving and it’s one of the reasons fueling a technological revolution towards autonomous (self-driving) vehicle adoption.

According to the World Health Organization, there are many types of distractions that can lead to impaired driving. “Drivers using mobile phones are approximately 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers not using a mobile phone. Using a phone while driving slows reaction times (notably braking reaction time, but also reaction to traffic signals), and makes it difficult to keep in the correct lane, and to keep the correct following distances.”

Despite ample evidence, studies and even advertising dollars spent warning us that texting-while-driving is dangerous, we, as drivers, continue to prioritize instant communication over safety.

This is where self-driving cars can help solve the problem.

Will cars have minds of their own? Sort Of.

The tech behind the self-driving car is the stuff of science-fiction novels. And yet it’s not locked in some futuristic world. Rather, the path towards self-driving vehicles is happening today.

One company, Ouster, which envisions “a future where safety is not a luxury,” is using LiDAR technology to help cars “see” the world around them. This mesmerizing video from them shows the current state-of-the-road when it comes to cars visualizing the immediate world around them.

Leading autonomous vehicle and smart city visionary, Martin Mantalvanos, CEO for RSM Technologies, explains, “The technology is at the point where sensors within the vehicle are sophisticated enough to mimic what a human driver can see. But the real magic lies in the ability to use that data to control the vehicle in a number of challenging environments, such as in a busy city environment which involves an awareness of pedestrians, bicycles, stop signals and lights and of course other motorists.”

To this point, Sensys Networks, focuses on integrating wireless traffic detection and data systems for Smart Cities with predictive analytics tools. Says Amine Haoui, CEO for Sensys Networks, “When an autonomous vehicle approaches a signalized intersection with accurate knowledge of whether the signal will be green or red, it can optimize its slow-down or acceleration accordingly. This helps not only to improve safety but to lower emission levels as well.”

Okay, besides safety, why are AVs so great?

  • Parking, shmarking. The adoption of driverless cars means those hours spent each week searching for a parking space are gone because you will always get dropped off at your desired location. And then your car has to find a spot all on its own while you’re comfortably at your destination.
  • The traffic looks non-existent again today. With AVs everywhere, the mysterious slow-downs and rubber-necking at accidents which cause extra traffic will be things of the past. Since the average commuter in the US spent about 50 hours stuck in traffic, according to the INRIX 2015 Traffic Scorecard, this means people will find new hours in their day and week.
  • Giving mobility to the immobile. Self-driving cars will enable not only the elderly to be mobile, but it will also empower those with disabilities, the unlicensed, and those who do not own a car to travel as well.
  • Treating Mother Earth better. According to McKinsey, adoption of autonomous cars could help reduce car CO2 emissions by as much as 300 million tons per year. To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of half of the CO2 emissions from the commercial aviation sector.
  • Eyes Not on the Road. With AVs manning the motor, it gives the passenger newfound time to read, catch up on shows, work or even nap.

So, why doesn’t everyone use self-driving cars?

Insurance, healthcare, transportation departments and ecological organizations are all in the mix working toward an efficient deployment of self-driving vehicles across a number of industries. While technology advancements are making great strides, there must be an overall policy, legislative and economic change within the eco-system of businesses, organizations and governments in order to make AV a ubiquitous reality. And clearly from a safety perspective, that reality can’t arrive soon enough.

This article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to provide medical or legal advice, or to indicate the availability or suitability of any product or service for your unique circumstances.

Capital One does not provide, endorse, or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The third parties listed are solely responsible for their products and services, and all trademarks listed are the property of their respective owners.

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