The Inevitability of the Autonomous Car

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Car enthusiast may lament at the idea of a self-driving, autonomous car, but there is certain inevitability with it as well. As automakers face stricter safety regulations around the world, one way to ensure passenger safety is with the implementation of driving-aid technologies.

However, there is a great disparity between what the enthusiast community wants and what actually sells. Yes, some automakers have carved a niche with die-hard car enthusiasts, but they will never be the majority of car buyers today. Prospective car buyers want safety and convenience wrapped in an inoffensive package that says meh.

Safety and convenience come today with the help of technology. Cars are crammed with sensors; tire-pressure sensor, oil-life sensor, adaptive cruise control, lasers, radars, blind-spot detection, and many more. All of these add a level of safety while sadly disconnecting the driver from the driving experience.

The forthcoming 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-class is the pinnacle of cramming every bit of available automotive technology into a car. Granted, Mercedes is an company known for engineering and it is only a matter of time before this technology trickles down to not only their more pedestrian models, but throughout the automotive market as well.

2014 Mercedes-Benz S-class interior
2014 Mercedes-Benz S-class interior

Of course, the autonomous car will face great challenges. Legally, who is responsible for an accident if an autonomous car goes awry on the highway? A compelling legal question will make numerous lawyers quite wealthy. One hurdle autonomous cars have to navigate the ever-evolving driving landscape.

Even though technology can keep a car within its lane, alert the driver to impending dangers, and adapt the cruise control to traffic, an autonomous car is still a computer and has limitations as such.

The human brain can discern between a child running into a road and an animal, but adding that discretion into a computer that is supposed to make lightning quick decisions is difficult. Add in unfavorable weather like snow or fog and the uncertainty of other drivers who may or may not have any self-driving technology and the amount of variables an autonomous has to account for is enormous.

There is also a cost issue involved with an autonomous car. Like all technologies, prices are declining, but the technology is still bulky and intrusive. As time goes on, automakers will slowly implement more driving aids and autonomous technologies, as they become cost efficient and smaller. The self-driving car will not be an overnight achievement, but a gradual process that will sneak up on the automotive market.

The self-driving car will not be an overnight achievement, but a gradual process that will sneak up on the automotive market.

Nissan is proposing that truly autonomous cars will be commonplace on roads by 2020. That doesn’t seem too far off, but look how far automotive technology has come in the last seven years; or, more importantly, the democratization of automotive technology. It is only a matter of time before Nissan is right. Ford recently introduced a new technology that allows a car to park itself without the necessity of the driver being in the car. This allows to the car to fit into smaller spaces that would otherwise be inaccessible because it would be impossible for the driver to exit the car.

Technologies like these will trickle down into cheaper and more affordable cars, and in doing so train a new generation of drivers to accept these nanny technologies and further disconnect driving from any form of enjoyment.

Thankfully, not every car on the road will be a buttered up toaster whose sole function is transportation. Automakers understand there is a market for performance vehicles that connect the driver and the car. Those will not be going anywhere anytime soon.

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