Aug 8, 2016

3 Hurdles That Remain For Long-Distance Automated Travel

This post is by Charles Bell. Our guest contributor this month. The topic for this post is autonomous cars, which is the cool new topic in travel and gadgets world. 

3 Hurdles That Remain For Long-Distance Automated Travel

There are a lot of exciting things about the possibility of fully automated cars, but one thing that people are looking forward to in particular is the idea of long commutes and road trips in these vehicles. Traveling in an ordinary car, while occasionally pleasant in its own way, is a taxing experience. Staying alert for hours on end is demanding, and controlling a vehicle on a highway can be monotonous. The idea of making the same trip in a car that will drive itself, allowing you to kick back and relax, is very appealing to a lot of people.

In all likelihood, it's going to be a reality one day. We wrote not long ago about Goodyear developing tires for automated cars, and with more and more developments like these, automated cars are getting closer to being road-ready. From there it's only a matter of time before these vehicles are available for long-distance travel. However, there are still a few hurdles that have to be cleared for that to become the case.

Speed Limitations

For the most part, we think of autonomous vehicles as embodying safe driving techniques and following the law on the road. This, in a way, is the entire point of their development. However, pioneering car designer Henrik Fisker, who helped to make electric cars a reality, has made an interesting point with regard to this fundamental principle of automated vehicles. He pointed out that most people break the speed limit, even if just to keep up with the flow of traffic. A lot of drivers, particularly on the highways involved in vacation travel, simply add 10 mph to speed limits to make a good time and keep up with other drivers, without being completely reckless. Theoretically, an automated vehicle won't make this same decision or won't even be able to make it. That means that automated vehicles will be slower than those with drivers, and it may also mean that some drivers will opt to drive themselves in the interest of making better time.

Human Communication

Automated car manufacturers have already done an incredible job of creating systems of sensors that enable vehicles to react to most anything that can happen on the road. Yet as one interesting analysis on some of the shortcomings of autonomous vehicles pointed out, there's one thing they can't quite react to. The hurdle is nonverbal communication, which might come in the form of one driver nodding or waving to another, one driver displaying anger or drowsiness that can be seen by others, and so forth. Self-driving cars react to road conditions, physical boundaries, and surrounding vehicles—not to eye contact or gestures. This may be more important on a lengthy road trip than anywhere else, as drivers will frequently wave to or otherwise communicate with each other when passing, changing lanes, etc. If this problem can't be solved, long-distance commutes in autonomous cars may not be safe.

Policy Changes

Finally, it's worth noting that policy may be the last major hurdle. That is to say, regulators and policy makers aren't necessarily able (or willing) to keep up with the advances we've seen in self-driving technology in recent years, and even if the vehicles are ready to be rolled out in the near future, they might not legally be allowed. This is true both in cities and in general, such that even those who are ready and willing to adopt autonomous vehicles to facilitate long-distance travel may not be able to for many years to come.

Hopefully, these changes can all be overcome, and we can soon be cruising along on road trips reading books or taking naps in our cars. But for the time being, there are still some serious challenges to face.

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