Vehicles that move on the road without human intervention gradually enter our lives. What benefits and risks could arise from their widespread use? Do we have anything to fear?
Cars with autonomous driving systems have been talked about for years. Their introduction to their range has been announced by major car manufacturers such as Tesla, Audi, and BMW. The first autonomous taxis have even appeared in some US cities. Autonomous cars use various systems – such as cameras, sensors, and onboard computers, that use different machine-learning algorithms to navigate the roads safely. They ultimately help avoid accidents, prevent collisions, reduce traffic congestion, and provide drivers and passengers a more comfortable journey. How proven and safe is this technology? What are the benefits and what are risks of its implementation? Are autonomous cars a good idea? These questions were answered by Endego experts Damian Ignasiak, Competence Centre Director: Software/Hardware, and Szymon Jackiewicz – DevSecOps Engineer.
Szymon Jackiewicz – DevSecOps Engineer Endego: Autonomous cars use many solutions that have been used for years. The passenger vehicles that leave today’s production lines are saturated with driver-assist technologies. Systems help to park, avoid accidents or make the car easier to use. One of the competences we pride ourselves on at Endego is developing software for such advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS – Advanced Driver Assistance Systems). With these, the latest car models are advanced computers on wheels. ADAS is designed to help reduce the driver’s driving burden by monitoring, warning, braking, and even steering in various situations. Its selected features are commonly used in autonomous vehicles:
The ongoing development of automotive technology, including driver assistance and automated driving systems, aims to provide even more excellent safety benefits.
Damian Ignasiak, Competence Centre Director: Software/Hardware Endego: Among the benefits most often cited in implementing autonomous cars are: improved driving efficiency and road safety (both individually and globally) or increased independence for the elderly and disabled.
One of the most significant benefits of autonomous cars is reducing road accidents. Most accidents are caused by human error, such as speeding, failing to maintain an inadequate distance from other vehicles, or failing to adapt the speed to weather conditions. Autonomous cars can analyze their surroundings with much greater precision and speed than the driver, so they can anticipate hazards and react to them more quickly.
Autonomous cars can also reduce traffic and help improve air quality in cities. All thanks to the fact that these cars can move more optimally without unnecessary braking and acceleration. Furthermore, these vehicles have advanced parking systems to make more efficient use of parking spaces.
Autonomous cars can be networked with each other and communicate with each other. In this way, one car can warn other cars of road hazards or its intention to perform a maneuver. Other vehicles can prepare to maneuver even before they ‘see’ the danger, which will translate significantly into passenger safety.
Autonomous self-driving cars offer freedom and independence to people with disabilities who may not have been able to drive without assistance. For older people who, for example, have had to give up driving due to health reasons or poorer reflexes, autonomous vehicles provide a safe way to get around.
Szymon Jackiewicz – DevSecOps Engineer Endego: Some concerns about introducing autonomous cars on the roads should be noticed.
One of them is the potential bias of the algorithms controlling the cars. The so-called ‘The Trolley Problem’ is one of the main issues in introducing autonomous vehicles on a larger scale. The issue is how should the algorithm make decisions in an emergency? Should the driver’s safety or, for example, a pedestrian in the lanes take priority in such a situation? These are questions that cannot be answered unequivocally. There is also a concern that certain groups, such as wheelchair users, may be under-represented in the data used to train the software algorithms that control cars, which could also cause bias.
Many people are also concerned that such cars could replace people at work, especially in transport-related professions. Over the next few years, truck drivers can be somewhat reassured about their jobs due to the prevailing regulations in Europe. However, it must be reckoned that autonomous vehicles are the future and, in the long term, the logistics and public transport sector will be replacing their vehicles with autonomous counterparts.
Autonomous vehicles are primarily electronics manufactured somewhere, so there is always a risk of error. It could be that a component has been defectively manufactured, has worn out during the vehicle’s life, or has failed. It’s not so significant if there’s a failure of the remote control, but if a critical component, such as the brakes or steering system, fails in the course of driving, the consequences can be catastrophic – especially when navigating the vehicle on a busy road.
As is often said, learning to drive is like riding a bike – you always remember it. However, without the opportunity to polish their skills, drivers risk losing their alertness and deteriorating their driving technique. If the software fails, will such a driver be able to act quickly and effectively?
Autonomous cars are sophisticated computers that manage the numerous systems that enable such a vehicle to move. As they communicate with each other and other devices, they will become more vulnerable to attacks by hackers who could take control of the car while it is driving. The gateway for malware could even be the inductive charger in the car. Even if some of these situations are ‘silly pranks’ – such as switching on the horn or windscreen wipers in the vehicle – there is also the risk that a hacking attack would aim to harm someone, cause a severe accident or disable the company’s entire fleet of vehicles. Privacy risks are also an issue, as hackers can track the places we visit and steal our personal data.
Damian Ignasiak, Competence Centre Director: Software/Hardware Endego: The key to improving safety is the development of technology, artificial intelligence, numerous tests of vehicle software in various conditions, and the production of systems using best practices and standards available on the market. At the Competence Centre in Gliwice, my Hardware team is involved, among other things, in building electronic circuits and devices from scratch. For example, it creates the structure of a PCB based on an electronic circuit diagram created by us, while the Software department deals with “bringing it to life”. – software to make these electronics work. Cars today have their own internal ‘Internet’. Each system has its microcontroller, which must be programmed. These components must “talk” to each other. This is why our specialists have experience with communication technologies such as CAN, LIN, and USB, which we can use in autonomous vehicles. We have the expertise to develop software for advanced ADAS driver assistance systems. We produce software with incredible attention to detail and by standards such as ASPICE or ISO26262, the so-called functional safety (FUSA).
One of the critical solutions in modern cars is the DMS – driver monitoring system while driving. Our expertise is used in the design of just such systems, based on using infrared light cameras to monitor the driver’s face at night. Such a system detects when the driver falls asleep while driving and sends out a warning. We have the expertise to test individual vehicle components and create scenarios to train and test the algorithms that control the vehicle.
An example of the application of our knowledge in practice is the in-house design of an autonomous drone. An ultra-advanced camera and neural network technology were used to create it. This drone took off independently, covered a route from point A to point B while avoiding various obstacles, and landed without human intervention.
Another project we are particularly proud of is the autonomous wheelchair platform. It can detect steps by itself, measure their size and, thanks to a gyroscope, adjust the angle of the seat so that the person using it does not fall off.
There is still a long way to go before autonomous cars are socially and legally accepted. Before we mature into it as a society, we must know how autonomous vehicles will integrate into our lives and whether they will be safe. A considerable amount of testing is needed for this.
Damian Ignasiak, Competence Centre Director: Software/Hardware Endego: It is worth developing this technology if it can save at least one person. We already see the positive effects of introducing ADAS systems. The response time of the systems during dangerous situations is counted in microseconds and not seconds, as is the case with human response. This is a vast difference that can be crucial in avoiding an accident.
It is worth mentioning that there are vehicles with fully autonomous driving systems on Polish roads, but this does not mean we will see a driverless cars. This is mainly due to regulations that require human beings to keep their hands on the wheel and supervise what is happening to the vehicle. The responsibility for collisions lies with the driver, not the vehicle manufacturer.
Although I am a fan of classic cars myself, the development of autonomous vehicles is inevitable. Such cars have the potential to change the way we travel. Instead of using our cars, we will one day order an autonomous vehicle just as we now do a taxi. But before self-driving cars reach end consumers, we should go through a long process. We need time for testing and for people to get used to the technology. It is a long and twisty road that would be us behind the wheel.
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