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Self-driving Cars: History, Advantages and Disadvantages

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Engineering
Wordcount: 2323 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Self-driving cars refer to cars that do not require human help to drive from one point to another. After being the topic of conversation for many public figures, media and academic researchers self-driving cars have received positive and negative feedback in regard to its functionality and its ethical use. Programming will be used to receive data from the environment, routes, roads, signs and other vehicles when performing in order to follow a simple calculation to ensure that there are better traffic controls, increased safety for the passenger and a streamlined journey. In comparison to human driven car, this should prove to be more functional and efficient. However, with the public being made more aware of numerous accidents due to autonomous cars, concerns over the ethical use of self-driving cars have risen (p.1) [1]. The revelation, that self-driving cars are even in the process of being made, may have brought optimistic ideologies to prospective investors and gadget fanatics however many fail to look at the limitations that these cars may be exposed to. For example, many of these self-driving cars are being made to operate under certain conditions and with certain instructions, however when these conditions are not met or more than one option for a task is available for the self-driving car to choose, how will they be able to make a valid decision? (p.12) [2].

The history of self-driving vehicles

The fabrication of the concept of self-driving cars came into light when an inventor, Francis Houdina, made a radio-controlled car in 1925 which could be driven down the streets with no one behind the steering wheel [3]. In 2002, this idea was developed when DARPA offered $1 million to any researcher that could produce and autonomous car that was able to travel more than 142 miles [3]. Unfortunately, this target was not met, and the furthest autonomous car only travelled 8 miles [3]. In 2009, Google began its journey to creating self-driving cars in a project call Waymo [3]. By 2017, Google, released a prototype of its self-driving cars and it was able to drive more than 2 million miles [3]. Nowadays, consumers are being made to rely more and more on technology within cars, such as sensors to avoid crashing and to help with parking, thus preparing them to trust self-driving vehicles (p.744) [4].

Advantages of self-driving vehicles

The inclusion of assistive computer technology into vehicles, such as the use of GPS, cameras, stability control systems and assisted brakes, have been seen to improve the safety of passengers and the quality at which people drive [5]. Northern Australia has already adapted the use of a self-driving car called the Navia [6]. The Navia travels at a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour and is commercially available to consumers at a price of $250,000 however its use is limited to confined places such as resorts [6]. For its purpose within resorts, the Navia is credible for being safe, due to its low speed thus allowing it to stop when unexpected obstacles are in the way. Engineers predict that self-driving cars could have a revolutionary impact on our economy and its productivity [6]. For example, whilst the car manages the road and getting to the designated location safely, the passengers could be utilising their time in other ways such as by completing work or even taking the time to relax. The self-driving car would also give innovators an opportunity to produce products for a completely different market thus opening the prospects of a reduction in unemployment and increase in the quality life [6]. The car would be more accessible to a wider target market such as to non-drivers, those with a disability and does unable to drive for whatever reason. This could minimise the stress and anxiety experienced by carers and even mothers who could use the vehicle as a form of transportation. It could also reduce spending since less money will be spend on public transports and hiring taxis. Nonetheless, I understand that unexpected stress and fears may arise from using self-driving cars such as worrying whether their loved one have reached the designated destination. On the other hand, health benefits may be seen through the introduction of autonomous cars in numerous ways. Traffic jams are known to show an increase in depression, anxiety and blood pressure in addition to a lower quality of sleep and a decrease in cardiovascular fitness [7]. With less traffic being caused by cars, these health drawbacks are likely to decrease allowing individuals to increase their productive potential and produce higher quality work. A reduction in traffic jams are likely to occur because the self-driving vehicles can communicate with each other therefore they can come up with the optimal route to take and reduce congestion. This will be environmentally beneficial since there will be less pollution being formed [7].

Disadvantages of autonomous vehicles

In 2011 Anthony Levandowski, was said to have caused a crash using a google self-driving car [5]. After this, many Google executives voiced their worries about whether safety measures were being ignored during the production of self-driving cars under Levandowski’s management. The ethical use of these self-driving cars was put into question when executives claimed that there had been more than a dozen accidents that occurred while in the production for the google self-driving cars [5]. This is not the only incident that occurred with self-driving cars involved. Another accident occurred in Florida when a Tesla Model S was put in self-driving autopilot mode and the passenger died when the car collided with a tractor trailer since the car failed to stop in time when the trailer went in front of the car [8]. Safety of passengers using these cars could be breached if it becomes possible for someone to hack into the programming of these cars which is a risk that could put many in danger. Cyber security is a constant battle between many large companies and hackers and/or terrorists. By allowing the self-driving to be under the same system and programmed together, one leak in the systems control could put the life of many into the hands of a hacker. Many large cities use parking as a source of revenue therefore with autonomous vehicles making these parking spaces no longer required, the autonomous vehicles could potentially destroy a form of income for many cities and companies. This is not the only way that a loss of income could occur. The use of taxi drivers and Uber drivers will become redundant since individuals only need to enter their destination and they will automatically be driven to the chosen location (p.17) [9]. With more technologies and systems becoming automated, human interaction has been reduced significantly and the use of self-driving cars will only decrease the interaction we have with others. This could produce mental dilemma’s such as loneliness, depression and anxiety. The Automobile Association conducted a survey in March 2016 and it was discovered that “three out of four U.S drivers would feel ‘Afraid’ to ride in self-driving cars” (Vivek & Alex, p.141) [10]. This goes to show that the transition from human drivers to robotic, programmed ones will be anything but easy and it will take time and trust. Nonetheless not everyone may be able to reap the results of the advancement in technology equally. As mentioned before, loss of jobs will be an inevitable result of the increase of the reliance on technology leaving a lot of workers without a source of income (Vivek & Alex, p.41) [10]. However, the potential negative impacts of this don’t stop there. Once the self-driving cars get released as a mainstream form of transport for many, the price at which it will be released will increase the income inequality between the rich and the poor, thus continuing the poverty cycle.

Solutions to issues with autonomous vehicles

As mentioned there are a lot of potential issues and dilemmas that may come from the planning of self-driving cars but with those also come solutions that can be used to reduce the scale of the dilemma. One fear that come from the use of self-driving cars is that they will take the roles of public transport. If the nation reduces its focus on public transport and mainly encourages the use of autonomous vehicles, then links to many towns will be reduced and mobility for the elite will be maximised whilst those of lower income will struggle with transportation. A solution to this would be to advertise the use of autonomous vehicles based on ethical and community goals. This will make sure that the needs of the community are met. Another fear that some may have is whether to trust their life into the hands of autonomous vehicles. A solution for this would be to allow regular testing of the autonomous vehicles and to ensure that it is safe and efficient. An environmental concern is that a lot of land space will be consumed because of the use of parking spaces for self-driving cars. During the introduction of self-driving cars, a separate lane may need to be introduced for cars that are able to be self-coordinated. Although this may cause issues on the usage of space that is currently scarce, through the development of technology, a method to utilise space in a more efficient way may also become apparent (p.27) [2].


The concept of self-driving cars is one that will lead to a change in the way we live as a nation and a race, but it is uncertain whether the result will be an overall positive or negative one. Engineers will have a large role in the testing, development and deployment of the self-driving cars and once or if they become common use in society and variety of structures will need to be innovated to adapt to the change in environment.




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