In April, a driverless car successfully completed a 3,400 mile trip across the United States without incident – the first time such a trip has been attempted, as reported by the National Center for Business Journalism.
Does this sound like science fiction? In fact, robotic cars are expected to become available within just a few short years. So here’s a question to ponder – would cars without humans at the wheel actually be safer for walkers in Boston?
Boston city leaders and planners have accomplished great strides in making the city pedestrian-friendly by installing signals, walkways, pedestrian bridges, and by making other important changes. Unfortunately, it is impossible to fully resolve the risk of pedestrian accidents. We can’t really control human error, or the presence of drunk, distracted, and speeding drivers. Could driverless cars be the ultimate answer?
The test journey of the driverless car that crossed the entire U.S. did require some human control of the vehicle, such as exiting from highways or when entering urban centers. The company performing this historic test, Delphi, an automotive supplier, reported that 99% of the trip was completed while the vehicle was under the control of the driverless software installed in the vehicle.
The Mirror reports that the technology in the robotic vehicle included four short-range radar systems, three cameras, six lidars (laser systems that function similarly to radar), a localization system, as well as a scope of advanced driver assistance systems. The test drive allowed the company to identify specific real-world problems, including the fact that the on-board cameras installed in the vehicle occasionally malfunctioned under certain light conditions.
Pedestrian accidents are a problem that just won’t go away. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports in a recent year 5 of the 23 persons killed in Boston vehicle accidents were pedestrians. Across Massachusetts, there were 72 pedestrian fatalities that year.
Robotic cars are expected to explode onto the market in the near future. The software systems are highly advanced. Some versions are already capable of traffic sign recognition, and the ability to spot pedestrians. Car manufacturers, as well as state and federal legislators and software developers, are working together to resolve the multitude of technical problems, laws, regulations, and safety issues associated with driverless cars.
The problems on the table that must be fully addressed include software security issues, as well as legal issues such as what party would be held liable if a self-driving was involved in an accident.
It is believed that driverless cars could finally bring a much higher level of safety to pedestrians, with vehicle software capable of recognizing the presence of pedestrians better than a human driver who may be subject to distraction or unable to react quickly enough to avoid impact. It is hoped that these robotic vehicles will bring a much higher level of safety for pedestrians and vehicle operators in Boston and throughout the nation.