Are self-driving cars safer and greener?

Self-driving cars are safer and greener?

We are stuck in a traffic jam, accelerating, racing, braking, honking and cursing: driving a car is so inefficient because we are drivers. That should be different: self-driving cars will soon be better and more environmentally friendly than us.

Self-driving cars – even driverless or autonomous driving – sounds like a crazy idea: Part of the driving pleasure is just to be able to jostle even with the flare and to rush on freeways at will. But research shows that by no means all motorists think so. Many would like to lay their hands on one another’s lap and leave the driving to someone else. And in the future this will be the car directly.

Modern cars already have distance warning devices, automatic brake systems, parking aids, lane assistants. Aircraft fly most of their routes on automatic and land partly by autopilot. In industrial agriculture, there is a great need for independent machinery, as well as in freight transport. And whether we like it all or not: The self-driving cars will also arrive in the passenger transport, depending on estimates, we will overtake more vehicles from 2025, which no longer have a driver.

Some manufacturers want to make it much earlier. What Audi, BMW, Daimler, Google, Nissan, Opel, VW work already today you see in the photo gallery:

Self-driving cars as a chance

Autonomous automobiles will cause problems, such as jobs in the transport sector. But there is also a chance in all of this. On the one hand, theoretically the number of accidents could fall if, for example, the individual vehicles are also networked with each other and can avoid each other. Already today, a large part of “intelligent” assistance systems are used primarily for accident prevention. And new prototypes already show that the robotic cars drive better than we do: Google’s Self-Driving Car in its first report from May 2015 (PDF) states that it has been involved in only 12 accidents in almost 3 million kilometers traveled Nobody was guilty of the clever car. (In some cases, the driver had to intervene to avert damage by other road users.)

Cuddly: The Google Self-Driving Car in Traffic (Photo: Google)

With self-driving cars, the overall traffic could also be environmentally friendly “programmed”, for example by reducing the number of unnecessary detours. Traffic can become more efficient if individual cars no longer fight as individuals in the competition for the green of traffic lights, the space on the left lane and so on, but as an intelligently controlled swarm that always behaves in the most resource-efficient way. This is already visible in traffic jam assistants, who can in principle help to ensure that traffic jams do not lead to senseless start-off and braking behavior.

Also, the total number of cars could be reduced if, instead of owning cars and mostly parking them, we rent self-driving cars ad hoc. One must not always think only of Germany, but also, for example, to the megacities in China and elsewhere.

The technology is (almost) there

Autonomous cars are safer and at least have the potential to be more environmentally friendly. However, there is still a long way to go before the fully autonomous automobile is ahead of the motor vehicle manufacturers. Although many necessary techniques already exist: Small computers today are powerful, GPS helps with the determination of position, cameras can detect environment, obstacles and traffic lights. With all this, test cars can already turn or overtake on freeways on their own, some noble sledges can already park completely independently.

Electric: the autonomous two-person car GM Chevrolet EN-V 2.0 (Photo: GM Company)

But it’s not easy to trust them. For example, the legal question arises: who is to blame if the self-driving car is building an accident? The driver who did not drive at all? The automaker, who was not there? The “Vienna Convention on Road Traffic” of 1968 forbids, for example, autonomous automobiles. But this is now considered an obstacle, because the carmakers in the US, Europe and the Far East are all interested in having the nose at the front of the autonomous vehicle. Therefore, in 2014 there was a UN supplement: “Systems that allow a car to drive autonomously are […] allowed if they can be stopped by the driver at any time”. So we will be able to brake for some time.

What Audi, BMW, Daimler, Google, Nissan, Opel, VW experiment, we show in the gallery:

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Christina Cherry
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