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Seven interesting facts about self-driving cars.

Miriam Porter September 15, 2017
Illustration of a futuristic cockpit of self-driving car.
The world is changing daily with new inventions, scientific discoveries, and exciting technologies. Self-driving cars are no exception to the latest creations and the Waymo project – formerly known as the Google self-driving car – is a self-driving technology company with select public trials and test drivers in the United States. They drive daily on public roads, with their fleet of self-driving vehicles refining this latest technology to move forward into the future. Here are seven things you may not have known about this cool new phenomenon.

How do they work?

There are actually two kinds of self-driving cars and five levels of vehicle automation, ranging from no automation to fully automated. Waymo explains that drivers will be able to go from one location to the other without ever taking the wheel. Their vehicles use sensors and software to detect other vehicles, motorists, bikers, pedestrians, and roadwork from up to two football fields away in every direction.  Furthermore, they have programmed their vehicles to drive defensively, stay out of blind spots, and adjust to unforeseen changes.

What kinds of cars are there?

Waymo has a fleet that includes a modified version of the Lexus RX450h SUV, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, and their adorable custom built prototype called the Firefly. There are many companies working on the driverless revolution including Honda, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, and Tesla – a company that has been at the forefront of automotive technology for many years. There are also rumors of Apple putting together a team of automotive engineers and Uber is working on their own self-driving cars with the announcement of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center.

Accident preventions.

Of course, the most important benefit for driverless vehicles would be to prevent accidents. Statistics estimate that 90% of traffic accidents are human error. This means that it may be possible to reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90%, as outlined in this article on Science Alert.  It states that if human emotions and errors are removed from the equation, almost 300,000 lives could be saved each decade in the United States. Fully autonomous cars are not yet street legal in Canada, but they are sure to change the way Canadians drive. Insurance companies and manufactures will still need to figure out who will be to blame should an accident occur.

Driving assistance features.

Fully autonomous vehicles are designed to do all the work and offer a multitude of driving assistance features. If you have difficulty parking, autonomous vehicles will allow you to sit back and relax while the vehicle automatically parks. Of course, cruise control and emergency breaking assistance can come in handy too. Recognizing the sights and sounds of emergency vehicles is also crucial. The Waymo self-driving minivan, is capable of hearing twice as far as previous sensors and able to gauge which direction it is coming from.

Current driverless features.

Just because self-driving cars are not here yet, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some cool features today. If you want to experience what it may be like to have an autonomous car, make sure your next vehicle comes with automatic forward-collision braking, lane-keep assist and steering assist. Back-up cameras are also a cool feature when it comes to safety. According to Scientific American, all cars sold after May 2018, must have a back-up camera.

Weather issues.

There are many things that still need be figured out when it comes to self-driving cars – one of them being weather issues and whether they will still be safe to use during treacherous weather conditions such as rain, hail, and snow. It’s a lot of data to process for cars with no driver, and the technology is constantly being improved.  In the United States, part of the safety policy must include that developers specify the type of weather conditions their vehicles can operate under.

When can I get one?

Waymo has tested them in several U.S. states including California, Texas, and Arizona. Several ongoing public trials have been conducted, but as mentioned, they are not yet street legal in Canada. There have been estimates that by the year 2022, self-driving cars will be on the road, while others predict it is still decades away. The middle ground is that it may happen gradually with more features being introduced in stages. In the meantime, just be sure to pay attention on the road while you still control your steering wheel and brake pedal.

For more interesting automotive news and features, check out CAA Magazine.