Self-Driving Cars: the future of driving


At the end of the last century, the idea that cars could drive themselves was a concept of fiction movies and TV series. We only need to recall Kit in The Fantastic Car (who even interacted by talking) or Herbie in There Goes That Hot Rod. However, almost half a century later, we find that automated driving has become a reality.

Our cities are getting closer and closer to the idea of Smart Cities, which we have already talked about in our blog; this means that the incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) or the Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly present in our daily lives and, of course, means of transport and driving play a relevant role in this new way of conceiving the cities of the 21st century.

The technologies of the cars of the future

Cars with Artificial Intelligence

In the development of the automotive industry, autonomous driving has become one of the main areas of research and innovation. The incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in vehicles has completely revolutionized the way we drive, and driving has never been as easy as it is today. Current vehicles  are already equipped with advanced machine learning systems that allow them to make decisions in real time, improving efficiency and safety on the road. But does this go beyond the mere research and development of car companies, what will it mean for our daily lives, and how safe will it be?

Hyperconnectivity with IoT

Autonomous driving is based on hyperconnectivity. This means it is based on the connectivity çin digital environments and the interaction between information systems, data and devices, all related to each other through the Internet. This connection through the Internet of Things is one of the keys to autonomous vehicles. The future cars will be interconnected with other vehicles, road infrastructures and smart devices, thus creating a collaborative network to optimize traffic flow and reduce accidents.

This scenario will undoubtedly require servers and a cloud service to guarantee this interconnection.

Big Data

This efficient hyperconnectivity requires the use of Big Data. The collection and analysis of large amounts of data is essential to improve autonomous driving as it will allow the cars of the future to refine their algorithms, anticipate traffic situations and ensure a more efficient and safer driving experience.

5 Levels of Autonomous Driving

The idea of creating self-driving vehicles is not a new concept. Throughout history, there have been numerous attempts to create vehicles that could move without human intervention. However, the real push towards modern autonomous driving began in the second half of the 20th century.

In the 1950s to 1980s, engineers and scientists from around the world involved in these areas began to explore the possibility of developing vehicles capable of autonomous operation. Research focused on automatic control systems and sensing technologies that would allow vehicles to make decisions based on their environment. As we have already noted, this research evolved into the conception of autonomous cars and autonomous driving that we have today. It is here that the question arises as to what this idea looks like today.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) established a classification system that defines vehicle autonomy levels from fully manual to fully autonomous driving. These levels serve as a standard framework for evaluating the degree of autonomy of vehicles.

  • Level 0 - Driver Only

At this level, vehicles have no driverless capabilities. All driving tasks depend on the driver, and there is no technological intervention.

  • Level 1 - Assisted Driving

This level introduces the first assistance features, such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist. Although there is some automation, the driver remains responsible for most driving tasks.

  • Level 2 - Partial Automated Driving

At this level, the vehicle is capable of performing some driving functions autonomously under certain conditions. It can handle tasks such as steering and acceleration, but the driver must remain alert and ready to intervene.

  • Level 3 - Elevated Automated Driving

Here, the vehicle can perform most driving tasks autonomously in specific situations, such as highway driving. Although the driver must remain in the vehicle, human intervention is required only in specific situations.

  • Level 4 - Full Automated Driving

At level four, the vehicle can perform all driving tasks autonomously under most conditions. Although there may be exceptions which require human intervention, the seld-driving capacity is substantial.

  • Level 5 - Autonomous Driving with 5G

At the cusp of automation is level five. Here, the vehicle can operate completely on it's own in all conditions, without human intervention. 5G connectivity facilitates instant communication between vehicles and infrastructure, improving efficiency and safety on the road.

Which manufacturers and which countries are the most advanced?

Although self-driving seemed probable to develop quicker, it seems unlikely that vehicles with level 5 autonomy will be on sale in the next decade.

The dissolution of the company Argo AI, in which Ford and Volkswagen were involved, highlighted the enormous economic requirements for self-driving cars. Added to this are legal and technical obstacles to be resolved and the lack of testing under real traffic conditions.

With these premises in mind, Mercedes Benz can be considered the most advanced manufacturer. Since May 2022, it has offered the S-Class and EQS the Drive Pilot option, which is the first system with an international level 3 autonomy certification that allows you to let go of the steering wheel and let the car drive autonomously in certain places and under certain conditions.

The company has established criteria to determine where the most progress is being made in the field of self-driving cars, in research and development, legislation, infrastructure, etc. They point to 30 countries as the most advanced, with the United States, Japan, France, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada topping the list. Spain is in 13th place ahead of countries such as Italy, Norway and Belgium.

Smart Mobility: Smart Cities

As self-driving continues to evolve, mobility will be transformed and, consequently, the configuration of our cities and our way of life will also change. We will gain in comfort, but also in road safety and traffic efficiency. We must not forget that all of this will improve aspects such as mental health (by reducing stress) or the environment, as they will be much more sustainable means of transport.

The Future of Road Safety

With self-driving and other technologies, road safety is expected to improve considerably. The implementation of advanced systems, hyperconnectivity and appropriate regulation is key to achieving a safer and more efficient road environment, but like any other change, there must be a legal framework in which it can be sustained and which serves to regulate a new way of understanding transportation and mobility.

Indeed, driving not being influenced by human factors such as distractions, drowsiness, fatigue, inadequate speed or alcohol or drug consumption is a plus in road safety, but it's certainly not easy for a vehicle to drive with no human intervention, not only at a technical level but also in terms of safety.

A study published in 2020 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that 94% of traffic accidents worldwide are caused by human error. As the experts in the IIHS report indicate, the number of accidents that can be avoided will depend on how the software of automated vehicles is programmed. This is where AI will be key as it will enable a faster and more accurate response. Installing, for example, AI sensors to avoid violating traffic regulations would reduce accidents by around 72%. Also, incorporating deep learning innovation, specifically in pedestrian detection systems, has reduced the error rate in these systems by up to 100 times.

The fact that self-driving vehicles are already operating in the U.S. and in some Asian cities such as Seoul, has led to the parallel development of regulations. In Europe, countries such as Germany have already authorized the use of more than 13,000 kilometres of automated roads. Also, the United Kingdom recently authorized users of Ford cars equipped with the BlueCruise autonomous system to drive on its high-capacity network without taking the wheel, after this technology had been successfully tested for years in the United States and Canada.

Spain is the third European country to join this trend and therefore, the General Directorate of Traffic also authorized drivers of the Ford Mustang Mach-E equipped with BlueCruise technology, operating at speeds of up to 130 km/h, to drive on our highways and freeways without holding the steering wheel.

The United Kingdom has been creating regulations on the use of these vehicles and their driving for some time now and, for this reason, they have created a commission to study fully autonomous driving. One of the first conclusions reached by this commission is that the person driving the car should not be legally responsible, since he/she should only be considered as a "user in charge", and not as responsible for the infractions derived from driving or possible accidents that may occur. In other words, there should be no difference between actions that occur when the autonomous car is occupied and those that occur when the same car is driving without an occupant.

It also recommended that the legal liability in the event of a failure or accident should lie with the company developing the autonomous driving system, while the car manufacturers should have access to data that would enable them to analyze the causes and liability after an infringement or accident has been committed. This has already been regulated in the past by the EU Transport Commission. In this regard, the experts proposed heavy fines and even criminal liability for those who fail to disclose how their systems work or, if necessary, where their systems failed. Another of the most significant recommendations was to clearly determine whether the vehicle is autonomous or not, i.e. whether there is a need for a driver at the controls or not.

All these conclusions and recommendations above led to regulations for driverless vehicles which also include banning misleading publicity.

In relation to this and to avoid possible fraud, a new directive has been created that revises the liability for defective products. Until now, in the EU the manufacturer was responsible for a malfunction and must pay all damages caused by a defective product, but now, the European Union will allow the supplier to prove that its system or component worked properly at the time of the accident. The EU thus relieves the self-driving car manufacturer of the full responsibility but leaves an open door for the manufacturer to also sue the supplier and be compensated for selling defective components.

In summary, as far as Europe and Spain are concerned, we can point out two main regulations under the Autonomous Driving Law.

  • Regulation of self-driving Cars in Europe

Europe has established regulations to ensure the safety and interoperability of autonomous vehicles throughout the region.

  • Regulation of self-driving Cars in Spain

Spain has joined the European regulation, adapting it to its specific needs and promoting the adoption of autonomous technologies.

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