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  • James Noblitt

Autonomous Driving

Though we don’t have flying cars that run on trash put into a Mr.Fusion , much to the disappointment of many, the evolution of vehicles to autonomous vehicles has shown a path into the future of the automotive industry. This transition came in to full swing through the efforts of one company in particular: Tesla. Their CEO Elon Musk led the charge into the future with a dedication to creating a completely new type of car, one that was both autonomous and electric. This creation has completely altered the car companies by breaking the mold, causing them to scramble to catch up.

However, the transition to fully autonomous driving cars was not one that happened over night. It began back in 2015 when Tesla released their first autopilot, which, according to Andrew Hawkins, was also the first semi-autonomous technology of this level to be offered in commercial vehicles. The primary feature of this technology was called Autosteer, which “keeps the car in its current lane once you're already on the road and manages speed and distance from the car ahead of it.” In other words, drivers were still needed to control the vehicles and this technology was meant as an aid, rather than a replacement, of the drivers.

The necessity of such a transition was backed up by International Automobile Federation’s (FIA) Laurianne Krid, who discussed how the main hurtle that autonomous technology needed to overcome was gaining the trust of the consumer. After the initial release of Autosteer, many consumers ignored the warning by Musk that people should keep their hands on the wheels, leading to less than desirable results. However, along this path to the future, Laurianne’s comments regarding the trust that needs to be established are stressed. She mentioned that in order for drivers to gain this trust, and to get used to giving up their power while driving, the autonomous process must be a gradual one, beginning by lending aid to the drivers. This sort of technology can be seen today, from your car alerting you of vehicles in your blind spots while changing lanes to breaking for you when it senses a car in front of you. As the technology visibly helps the drivers, consumers will be more open to the idea of giving up control for a safer drive. She also mentioned that the idea of autonomous driving as an aide to society, such as a replacement of busses or allowing those who cannot drive to be mobile, was something that many of the subscribers within the FIA could get behind.

The idea of a fully autonomous bus is one that has gained popularity and, in some cities, already begun to be carried out. From Switzerland, where “six of EasyMile’s EZ10 shuttles drove a 1.5-mile dedicated track that helped deliver students and professors from the local metro station to different corners of campus” with, according to Allisa Walker, no incident. While these buses don’t currently go very fast, maxing out at around 17 mph, this concept is one that allows autonomous driving to, according to Laurianne, create more value to the society by enabling increased mobility.

Check out this video of the EZ10 in action:

Along the same idea of using autonomous driving vehicles to create more value to the society, Musk has shifted his focus from consumer vehicles with the release of one of Tesla’s newest innovations: an electric semi-truck with semi-autonomous capabilities. Musk pitched this as the “safest and most comfortable truck ever.” It has the ability to haul up to 80,000 pounds, making it a Class 8 truck. This is a category of freight vehicles that weigh more than 33,000 pounds. It is also extremely aerodynamic, allowing it to travel up to 500 miles at the maximum weight. It is not only an electric vehicle, but also includes the semi-autonomous features discussed above, including breaking and staying within a line on the highway. This makes it one of the safest semi-trucks to be released yet. However, much like the impact that Tesla had on autonomous electric consumer vehicles, other companies have leapt into action attempting to compete with their own versions of this vehicle. Vox reports that Nikola Motor Company now offers a fuel cell-powered truck. The diesel engine manufacturer Cummins revealed an electric Class 7 truck in August. And the Canadian retailer Loblaw Companies Limited launched its own electric Class 8 truck last week.

Four years after the release of Tesla’s first autopilot vehicle the amount of companies hoping to compete has dramatically multiplied. How did Tesla drive such an interest? There have been other companies that started working on electric and autonomous cars before them, however, Tesla was able to make this type of vehicle cool. Similar to Apple, the company added a brand identity that’s effect was demonstrated by the amount of people lining up to put a deposit down on all of their new models and vehicles. As more and more companies arise attempting to compete with Tesla, their CEO Musk interestingly states “Our goal when we created Tesla a decade ago was the same as it is today, to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.” It seems that this competition was something that Musk was attempting to bring about to provide the average consumer with the ability to purchase electric vehicles.

As the future unfolds before our eyes it is clear that autonomy of vehicles is only going to increase and the future of vehicles will once again change.

What's the next big thing? We will see...

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