The Self-driving car – a sci-fi dreamer’s fantasy? Or a new-age reality? How close are we really to fully autonomous car travel? Some say this year, some say a lot longer, whilst some already believe they are available for purchase. The following article will distinguish fact from fiction, and the truth behind the dawn of the self-driving car.

Learning & adaptation

According to manufacturers, the self-driving car is a tedious and time-consuming process. Dissimilar to the floods of vehicles that permeate the market on a regular basis, self-driving cars require significantly more technicalities to prepare them for safe and secure autonomous driving – a whole 16 years!

Autonomous vehicles, like humans, need to learn and adapt in order to become fully and reliably autonomous. An interesting challenge in 2004 conducted by the U.S military saw some ‘young’ robot cars cross the Mojave desert in the US.

Unfortunately, the success of these machines is still to be documented, and they may indeed still be struggling to get their licenses.

Experts understand that this process takes longer than anyone could have initially perceived, but with estimates of quicker maturation over the coming decade – licensed, autonomous vehicles may finally be within reach.

Where are we now?

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of where we are in relation to the full release of self-driving cars, the Society of Automotive Engineers invented a useful method of classification discussing the five stages of automation – the final being our ideal, 100% autonomous, completely self-driving car.

Level 1 is where the vehicle is able to manage steering and braking; level 2 is the same, however, partial automation means braking and steering can be executed together. Both of these stages obviously still require complete driver attention, however level 3 (conditional automation) handles most parts of driving, giving some ease to the driver, and the first real inkling of an autonomous vehicle.

Level 4 is a further upgrade, and level 5 is full-on automation…where the car drives you.

Within expert engineering and technological circles, the reality of self-driving cars doesn’t fit with the fanatical expectations of many.

Whilst they are in production, and they are learning, adapting, and continuing to improve, the day when they become publicly available and we can travel through cities, even countries in our sleep may indeed be a lot further away than the masses seem to believe…Potentially decades.

Image by Taras Makarenko from Pexels