What Is The Past & Future Of Autonomous Vehicles Essay

Starting from the year 1964 automakers participated in the New York World Fair. General Motors presented their concept car the Firebird IV, which was said to “anticipate the day when the family will drive to the super-highway, turn over the car’s controls to an automatic, programmed guidance system and travel in comfort and absolute safety at more than twice the speed possible on today’s expressways.” (Shankland 2016). Ford presented their Mustang, which was worked out with consideration of the future generation of baby boomers, the engineer of Ford stated that that care was able to bring total performance for America. The sales of this car were really high. During the consequent 50 years cars were associated with freedom and personal expression. At the same time talking about practical things, it is necessary to mention that any automobile industry depended upon other factors, such as roadways, parking spaces, organized fuel stations and so on. These factors on the one hand influenced further development of this type of industry and all the resources, related to it; on the other hand they caused other serious problems with pollution and shortening supplies of global natural resources. Constantly competing and rapidly developing technologies continue to lead to development of autonomous vehicles in the future.

A well-known science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote about significant changes in 1964, which were going to happen in the whole world, he assumed that people would live in such reality, which was at that moment considered to belong to science fiction. He mentioned application of robots and machines for making a coffee or cleaning the house and certainly driverless cars. Asimov was convinced that the new age of machines was approaching and made the attempts to share his fascination with the development of the concept of artificial intelligence. He assumed that the day would come, when the machines would be intelligent enough to replace humans in various spheres. Even if some of his contemporaries supported his ideas about rapid development of technologies in the future, they still had serious doubts about the possibility to substitute human brain. “Their internal network is far simpler than a human brain, although they make up for this disadvantage because their “nerves” and neurons transmit messages electronically at the speed of light — millions of times faster than the chemical transmission in human brains.  But impersonate humans?  Never.” (Del-Colle 2013).

However, starting from the year 2014, two decades after Asimov’s death, his predictions started to become true. Modern computers reveal their ability to compete with human intelligence. Separately Asimov was considering the possibility of creating a “robot car”, which would be able to react and think in the same way, like humans do, in addition making no mistakes. The science fiction writer lived during the unique period of quick evolution in the sphere of vehicle safety equipment. “In the space of 10 years between 1958 and 1968, he would have seen the introduction of the seat belt, the padded dashboard, front-seat head restraints and mechanical anti-lock brakes. In the next decade came the first production cars with electronic ABS and driver’s airbag and by the nineties auto safety research and development had already moved into the realms of pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control and automation.” (Shankland 2016). Scientists considered the possibility of creation of robot vehicles long time before computer users got to know about Google. Certainly the advances of the software and sensors were not that well developed yet and the first models of robots were not looking like real cars. At the same time sensor technologies continued to rapidly develop, in addition, space and artificial intelligence technologies advanced so actively that there are debates about the possibilities of machine intelligence and comparing of it to human intelligence. At the moment machines are not able to match human processing of information, this however doesn’t mean that it is not possible in the nearest future and that technology would not manage to master the methods of human intelligence. Artificial intelligence could be more perfect, as it could operate without human errors, as it is not influenced by the time of work and never gets tired and nowadays there are discussions about the possibility of humanizing of technology to such extent that it would be able to act and take decisions on the basis of human needs and reactions. “This is the reason why cars that drive themselves are no longer distant shapes on a science fiction landscape and why the future of autonomous driving may be closer than previously thought.” (Del-Colle 2013). 

In reality modern technologies are moving towards creation of driverless cars, for example Tesla Motors presented their dual-motor Model S, which has outstanding autopilot functions, allowing the car to keep in lane, subdue to speed limits, avoid obstacles on the road and part itself. Other automakers, including Honda, Toyota, Audi, Mitsubishi are also developing their technologies in this direction. “In fact he automotive sector has seen the number of patent filings worldwide grow by double-digits year-on-year over the past five years.  Rapid technological advancement in a wide range of areas including propulsion, navigation, handling, safety and security,  is pushing the boundaries of possibility so far that the lines between science fiction and science fact and blurring.” (Shankland 2016). Some experts assume that till 2030 driverless cars will lead to decrease of drivers demand and driverless cars would be as usual in our everyday lives, like metro is now. At the same it is not that easy to predict how humans and technologies would communicate in the future and what changes in this communication would have their impacts upon development of driverless cars. At any rate, it is high time to talk about the future of the automotive industry with consideration of the changes in sensor technologies. Nowadays most of drivers use their car keys for opening and staring of the motors of their cars, the future belongs to the technology of Biometric Vehicle Access, which enables unlocking and starting of the car without applying of any keys, instead with the help of eyeball. As soon as the owner of the car approaches it, the car would react to the vibrant images with the help of active glass. “Remote vehicle shutdown will enter the social consciousness, with insurance companies able to simply shut down stolen cars, ending police chases quickly and with little drama.  And roads will have embedded magnetic fields that can charge electric vehicles while on the go, as well as designated lanes for driverless truck convoys—also known as “platoons”—which will become a surreal but all to common site on our motorways.” (Shankland 2016). When drivers take their seats, their cars would do emotional and physical state of health scanning and pass all this information to insurance companies. If the computer decides that a driver is not in the correct form, then he would be asked to leave the vehicle.

One of the main problems, which is usually discussed in relation to driverless cars and their future application on the roads, is the issue of safety. Certainly driverless cars seem to be less dangerous, but at the same time there are other kinds of vehicles in any city and they would need to “meet” in the streets and in case an accident takes place, it is absolutely not clear, whose responsibility it is, either of the robot driver, of the owner of the care or the designer of it?

Even if machines are generally considered to avoid all human failures, the fact is that they are able to make their own errors because of incorrect programming of design. “In order for a vehicle to be able to handle a situation, the programmers have to have first envisioned it, or something similar enough to it, which will beg the question are the best humans still better than the automated system at carrying out emergency manoeuvres?” (Abrams 2016). For example if to take a usual situation, when a pedestrian runs to the road quickly, driverless car should brake hard automatically in order to secure safety to him. At the same time this could cause traffic chaos, especially if to take into consideration that a lot of pedestrians, knowing about this function, would definitely abuse it. On the basis of these considerations, it is possible to state that self-driving cars are becoming a part of our reality; still they need more time for further development and testing. At the same time they should not be seen as a part of certain future, and people are not able to say that the next car, they are going to drive, would be driverless car. It is not possible to define the exact moment, when driverless cars would be in regular use. Still most experts agree that it is going to happen soon. For example GM is going to present their Super Cruise car probably by 2017 or 2018. “Super Cruise is part of a trend that has sneaked up on the car-buying public. The active safety systems in many modern production carsforward-collision warning, park assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and othersare inching the vehicles we buy toward autonomy. By using a combination of sensors, radar, GPS, and cameras, these systems enable a car to interpret its surroundings and issue warnings or even brake the car if a collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian is imminent. As these systems become connected, our cars become smarter.” (Del-Colle 2013). Mercedez-Benz has developed similar driver-assistance systems, but all of them need the driver to be present in his seat and touch the wheel in order to ensure that he is participating in the process of driving. Thus the main difference of Super Cruise is that it does not demand the driver to be present there and allows letting the car go for a relatively long period of time.

At the moment it is also necessary to consider that Super Cruise self-driving car would be available only under special conditions, like for example selected highways, there are certain speed and turning limitations, this means that it is more like the function of autopilot and not like driverless car. An absolute autonomous car is when the user indicates the GPS data and destination and the car drives itself. Even if it is not possible at the moment, it could be in the nearest future, taking into consideration the speed of development of the technologies. Volvo has already developed the function of self parking for their cars.

Another controversial issue of driverless cars is related to legal regulations of this technology and its applications. The fact is that such cars have never existed before and the current legislations are not adjusted to them. So, some states, such as Nevada, Florida, Michigan, authorities started to test some laws for self-driving cars on the roads. “Generally these laws simply stipulate that someone must be in the car and be able to take control of the car in case of an emergency. In May the NHTSA released a set of suggested guidelines for the development of semiautonomous vehicles, but there are still no official federal regulations.” (Greenblatt 2016). Honda, Ford, Toyota are testing their technologies already in mock cities. Google and Apple are also contributing to development of driverless technology, presenting their autopilot-like features in the vehicles by 2020. Automaking industry is well-known for its high competition rates, this fact would also contribute to further competition in the sphere of driverless cars. At the moment there is no commonly developed and accepted regulation for self-driving vehicles, which should be aimed at protecting of the passengers and people around. Neither is there the concrete definition and listing of the standard equipment for autonomous cars, for example the issues, related to safety bags, to airbags and so on have not been yet properly considered and identified.

We’ve already seen plenty of examples of Tesla’s autopilot feature either failing to do what is advertised by the company, or the over-expectation and lack of responsible security taken by drivers using the auto-pilot feature resulting in accidents. As these hybrid-autonomy features slowly work their way into the showroom of every automaker, the grey area between a driven vehicle and a driver-less vehicle is going to take years—if not decades, to filter through, and companies, owners and governments need a system of guidance and law to keep society at a safe and common level of expectation. (Abrams 2016).

Overall, driverless cars certainly represent the technology of the future, still consumers and producers are preparing for application of this type of new technology already today.  There are a lot of subsidiary technologies, developed with the aim of being technologically competitive in the modern automobile market and have future perspectives.

Works cited:

Abrams, R. Self-Driving Cars May Get Here Before We’re Ready, 2016

Davies, B. “The future of urban transport: The self-driving car club”. zodiacmedia.co.uk, 2014.

Del-Colle, A. The 12 Most Important Questions About Self-Driving Cars, 2013

Greenblatt, N.A. Self-Driving Cars Will Be Ready Before Our Laws Are, 2016

Lee, G.  “Google’s Self-Driving Cars Still Face Many Obstacles | MIT Technology Review.” MIT Technology Review,  2014

Liden, D., Walker J. “What Is a Driverless Car?” WiseGeek. Conjecture,  2014

Moscaritolo, A. “Google’s Self-Driving Car Takes Blind Man for a Ride”. PC Magazine, 2013.

Ramsey, M., Barr, A.  “California Proposes Driverless-Car Rules; State outlines guidelines for permitting autonomous-driving cars and licensing their motorists”. Wall Street Journal, 2016.

Shankland, S. A future of self-driving cars? We’re ready now. 2016

Westbrook, J. Los Angeles Is The First City To Take Autonomous Cars Seriously, 2015

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