Fast cars, while cool, are getting to be a dime a dozen. A car that can drive itself, however, is fast becoming the definition of a luxury car.
Years ago, advances in luxury cars largely revolved around ever-greater speed and ease of control. Then came the rise of electric vehicles (EVs), marketed as the cleaner way to get around and appealing to environmentally conscious drivers. However, in a world of increasingly short attentions spans, it wasn’t long before consumers started looking for the next big thing in automotives.
In the second decade of the 21st century, development of artificial intelligence (AI) saw great advances in many aspects such as computer vision, object recognition and game playing. These advances in AI technology led to what is probably the next thing to look out for in the automotive industry, autonomous or self-driving vehicles.
Before we dive in, some clarifications are in order. While we say that self-driving cars are going to be the next big thing in the automotive industry, we aren’t discounting the significance of fast cars or the environmental potential of EVs. The need for speed forms a primal link between man and machine, and EVs are simply the next evolution in how we power our cars.
Also, the terms autonomous and self-driving have been used interchangeably to describe two main categories of vehicles, cars made for retail and those made specifically for burgeoning autonomous delivery and ride-hailing services. For this article, we shall be referring primarily to the former.
That brings us to the next question. In the 2010s many automakers and news outlets proclaimed that by 2020, we would be entering a world where we would be “permanent backseat driver(s)”. Yet in 2021, it seems that we are no closer than when it was first predicted. Therefore, people are asking why don’t we have fully autonomous driving features yet?
To answer this, we have to understand how self-driving cars work. As mentioned in our introduction, self-driving vehicles rely on AIs which utilise a system of cameras and sensors to monitor road conditions and track objects around the vehicle. This information is used by the onboard AI to determine the ideal route, acceleration and steering. However, before the AIs can make these decisions for themselves, it must be taught the rules of the road and how to react in different scenarios. This entails acquiring an extremely large amount of training data which would be equivalent to billions of hours of driving footage.