Why drive yourself when a self-driving car could be a safer alternative?
Instead the opposite has occurred. In August, Ford publicly committed to field self-driving cars by 2021. In September, Uber began picking up passengers with self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, albeit with safety drivers ready to take over.
October saw Tesla itself undeterred by the fatality. The company began producing cars it said had all the hardware needed for autonomous operation. The software will be written and added later.
“Autopilot cars had airbags deploy once in every 1.3 million miles of driving.”
Three of the most significant developments in the industry happened last month. The 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit saw automakers new and old (and their suppliers) show off their plans and innovations in this arena.
And the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its report on the Tesla fatality. Together, they suggest a future filled with driverless cars that are both safer than today’s vehicles and radically different in appearance and comfort.
Confirmation of safety
The NTSB report contained a key finding that will no doubt further fuel the autonomous vehicle movement. Beyond finding no safety defect in the Tesla vehicle, and even aside from its decision not to order a recall of the car, the official government report declared that autonomous cars are safer than human-driven ones.
To make its finding, the agency analyzed data Tesla collects remotely from all its cars. It compared the number of times airbags deployed in Tesla cars that have Autopilot and earlier models without it. That’s one way of determining how many serious accidents the cars were involved in.
The data revealed that the accident rate was much lower in Tesla cars equipped with Autopilot. Cars with Autopilot had airbags deploy once in every 1.3 million miles of driving. Those without Autopilot deployed their airbags once every 800,000 miles.
(The NTSB cautioned that Tesla’s Autopilot requires the full attention of the driver and noted that driver inattention contributed to the fatal crash.) Paradoxically, the tragic Tesla accident may ultimately increase confidence in autonomous vehicle technologies, thanks to the NTSB investigation.
Manufacturers join the fray
Those safer cars of the future will not all be Teslas, though. While Google’s seven-year-long effort to develop an autonomous car has hit a few bumps, CES exhibits from major existing car companies showed strong progress.
Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota all highlighted their efforts to catch up with upstart Tesla. Some of these traditional car companies displayed radical ideas, such as retractable steering wheels, scissor doors and on-board AI assistants like Amazon’s Alexa.
“CES autonomous car exhibits from major existing car companies showed strong progress.”
New developments arise
The company has developed extremely power-efficient processors that are supporting deep learning for autonomous driving on an Audi Q7. Deep learning allows the vehicle to learn from examples and from experience, improving its performance in varying conditions over time.
These systems can support drivers who are personally operating their vehicles: for instance, noticing the driver is looking to the left and might not see a cyclist approaching on the right. Tesla is already using NVIDIA supercomputers in its vehicles, and Mercedes is working on integrating NVIDIA artificial intelligence into its products.
This article first appeared on The Conversation and was republished with permission.
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