Self-driving cars: too fantastic to be fact?

By Bridget Gehan, Staff Writer

It is the stuff of science fiction, like in Minority Report, an idea so incredible that it seems impossible – a car that can drive itself. Companies, including Google, Uber, Tesla, and Lyft, are working toward realizing this dream by creating prototypes of these miracle machines.

Following the most recent release of Google and Tesla prototypes, Uber introduced its first fleet of ‘road-ready’ autonomous cars in Pittsburg on September 12, 2016.

These companies believe the main purpose of these cars is to aid people with visual and auditory handicaps, which would increase mobility for people who otherwise would be incapable of driving themselves.


The Google self-driving car stands parked after a successful initial test run, and waits for the next run. (Photo by Steve Jurvetson and caption by Bridget Gehan.)

Additionally, Google predicts that these cars will decrease traffic incidents by as much as 94% of the current 1.2 million annual world-wide accidents.

Each car is equipped with sensors, some of which can detect objects up to 200 yards, but this technology does not make them infallible.

Of 50 Google cars tested in California, 22% were involved in crashes. In a separate incident, a Tesla autonomous car crashed and killed the driver. 

With this in mind, Tesla introduced a new feature that forces people to stay on guard so they are ready to take the wheel if necessary. The original programming coded into the machines lacked the human intuition necessary to make instantaneous decisions in life or death situations. This new feature will, hopefully, result in a decline of these accidents.

However, Notre Dame students are not convinced.

“I don’t think self-driving cars are safe because they can’t dodge unforeseen obstacles… Cars are dangerous enough as it is” says Junior Zoë Carpenter.

In light of safety concerns, the Federal Government released legislation that implements guidelines for autonomous vehicles and regulates their safety features. Regarding this legislation, the US Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says, “We believe we have struck a balance between safety and innovation.”



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