What You Need to Know About Self-Driving Cars

There's no denying or stopping their eventual arrival...autonomous cars are coming. And although many welcome the technological advancement, there's still a fair amount of fear and skepticism circulating amongst the general public, as very few people know what to actually expect. Can one actually be hacked? And what happens if you fall asleep in one? Read on to find out. 

1. How do we know they’re not going to kill us?

This is going to be macabre, but it needs to be stated: self-driving cars will definitely kill people. That’s a statistical certainty. That said, they’ll kill way fewer people than human drivers do currently.

2. Are they safe?

It's hard to define what exactly "safe" is. When you crash into a tree, it’ll be the same as any new car because it’s still subject to the laws of physics. That said, you probably won’t crash into a tree, so yes, they’ll be safer than you driving your own car. No, they probably won't be as safe as airliners, mainly because planes are inspected for faults every single day.

3. Could someone hack into one as a terrorist attack?

Not likely. Much like airliners now, they’re a known target and thus the systems being built-in will be next to impossible to hack, with built-in redundancies, etc. It won't at all be like unlocking someone else's car.

4. How do they work, exactly?

Magic, probably. But also by a system comprised of a bunch of radar and sonic sensors, lasers, and infrared and regular cameras to help computers recognize objects and determine which ones are necessary to avoid. Mostly the magic though.

5. How fast will they go?

Faster than you’d think, probably. Even normal cars today have much more situational awareness than most drivers. Going fast is actually much easier than driving in traffic for the computers.

6. What problems have they had?

We’re still in the nascent stages of the tech, so there have been issues with recognizing curbs when it’s raining, and some of the automatic braking systems that are currently on the market have been trying to avoid non-existent objects. The machines haven’t risen yet though: at this point, one autonomous car simply cutting off another is still news.

7. When can I drive in one?

Never. That’s the entire point!

Kidding, of course. You can drive in one now, kinda. Some companies have autonomous-ish tech out now, like lane-departure assist and even stop and go traffic autopilots, as seen in the new BMW 7-Series. You’ll start seeing more and more of that in the next few years, but we’re still a few automotive generations away from a full-on autonomous car that’s mass produced and easy to obtain. You'll see them as a ride-sharing alternative to cabs long before you own one.

8. Does this mean Skynet is only months away?

Is your car going to be connected to the world in a way your parents could have never imagined? Yes. Are decisions that seal your fate going to be based on that network of information? Well, yes, in the sense that your car will rely on information from many different sources to decide where to go and what to do in an emergency. Is it going to become self-aware and decide to nuke the planet? Who really knows, but I'd wager no.

9. Can I fall asleep in one?

Eventually, sure. But there’s a line to be drawn between a fully autonomous vehicle and one that's semi-autonomous. The first cars will be semi-autonomous, which means they'll not only have manual overrides, but you'll be required to be alert and with at least one hand on the wheel at all times.

Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor, and can be found on Twitter. He welcomes autonomous vehicles since he doesn't trust most drivers, but will likely never own one himself.

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