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Separating Science From Fiction: The truth about autonomous cars

Karns & Kerrison

When most people think about autonomous self-driving cars, they imagine something like a science-fiction movie, with thousands of computerized vehicles filling the highways in perfect synchronization.

The science, of course, is very different from the science-fiction regarding autonomous motor vehicles. At least at the initial release of self-driving vehicles, it looks like self-driving vehicles might be a little more science and less fiction than most people think.

What Are Autonomous Vehicles?

Autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are vehicles that can autonomously engage controls like steering and braking.

One initial offering from General Motors (GM) does not take full control away from the driver. According to Reuters, GM's "Super Cruise" system is a semi-autonomous vehicle that GM plans to unveil in 2017. This proposed vehicle allows the vehicle to take some control while maintaining a number of safety features to reduce the dangers associated with fully autonomous vehicles.

The technology planned by GM will allow the vehicle to take control, but with a couple of failsafe measures to improve safety:

  • Alerts: If the road is dangerous due to multiple twists and turns, the car will sound an alert.
  • Automatic slow-down and hazard lights: If the driver does not respond to the car's alert, the car will automatically slow down and initiate the hazard lights.
  • Facial recognition software: Another interesting innovation in GM's new vehicle is the facial recognition software. This technology will detect if the driver stops paying attention or falls asleep, and issue various alerts for the driver to regain control of the car. If he or she doesn't, the car will automatically slow down, pull over and turn on the hazard lights.

Although GM's proposed new technology will be less dangerous than some might have initially thought, there are still significant risks involved. There is less likelihood that drivers will completely stop paying attention, there is always the risk of mechanical failure and other issues that could result in serious accidents.

The driver will still need to be the one responsible for the vehicle, and all drivers will still need to be careful on the road.

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