Self-driving Cars: Are They Here Yet?

Waymo self driving car
Waymo self driving car

We hear a lot about the technologies and testing of self-driven cars (also referred to as driverless or autonomous cars). This niche is constantly evolving, and we see manufacturers and technology giants getting engaged in the battle for dominance. Of course, the stakes are high. Successful public testing probably guarantees dominance over a huge market but media interest in these cars is high and every little accident gets worldwide bad press. All teh signs are that this innovation is really just around the corner, and it is going to become a norm sooner than you wear out your set of all-season tyres!

What’s new on the market?

You might think it strange that the companies who seem to be furthest ahead in the self-driving game are not actually car manufacturers. The battle for dominance is currently between companies not related to car manufacturing – Uber, Google, Apple, and Samsung. This is because a very advanced computer brain is the crucial technology. Having said that most of the world’s leading car manufacturers (such as Ford, Volvo, Mercedes, or Hyundai) have been setting up artificial intelligence labs and working on self-driving technologies so it will be interesting to see if they can catch up.

Google’s spin-off Waymo recently sued Uber for alleged using of Google’s secret self-driving technology data that had been allegedly stolen by Google’s former engineer Levandowski before he was hired by Uber. This data could have been used in the development of Uber’s Lidar, the key sensor system for autonomous cars.

Which Cars are Using Who’s Technology?

The U.S. companies are predominantly testing their autonomous systems on modified Lexus SUVs. Google is using its own Google car and Uber is testing with Volvo. Samsung is testing it’s self-driving sensors and machine-learning technologies in compatriot firm Hyundai’s cars. According to Samsung Electronic’s spokesperson, the company isn’t going to follow the path of its competitors and build autonomous cars. It is more into developing algorithms, computer modules, and sensors that can be then sold to car manufacturers. The firm aims at delivering technologies that make a self-driving car faultless in the most inclement weather conditions. To prevent any risks associated with self-driven car testing without pedals and steering wheels, South Korea allowed only one passenger to be in the car during the test.

How’s testing going?

Apple, Uber and Waymo are successfully testing their autonomous cars on the U.S. roads. 20 Korean companies were recently permitted to ‘public test’ their self-driven car models on public roads including Samsung. There have been very few incidents so far which is incredibly exciting for the technology, however, a couple of high-profile incidents have been recorded.

In 2016 a Tesla car in self-drive mode was involved in a fatal crash. On investigation, it was concluded that the driver had ignored system warnings so it was human error not a fault with the technology.

Uber suspended testing in March 2017 after a crash on an Arizona road. An investigation concluded it wasn’t the Uber driverless cars fault, however, it did make people wonder if a human would have better anticipated what other road users were likely to have done and taken evasive action thereby avoiding an accident. Of course, other commentators noted that if the other car involved have been a self-driving one the accident would not have happened either! It will be interesting to see if self-driving cars are able to safely share the roads with human drivers or if driverless systems have to be isolated from human drivers!