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Self-Driving Cars

What if one day you were to get into a moving car that is driven by…no one?

When you go to school, you probably ride in a car or bus driven by an adult. What if one day you were to get into a moving car that is driven by…no one? The car would stop at red traffic lights, adjust its speed if it sees people in the road, and even change its route if there was an accident ahead. This is a self-driving vehicle. At your age right now, we realize all cars are currently self-driving cars, because you’re not driving any of them! By the time you’re of a driving age though, this technology may be available for you.

Self-Driving Cars

Why would you want a self-driving car?

Self-driving cars make driving easier and safer. Drivers get distracted by their phones or don’t react quickly enough if a car ahead suddenly stops. Self-driving cars are always paying attention, so you can relax. They also help people who can’t drive, such as blind or elderly people, so they don’t have to rely on others for transportation.

self-driving

How safe are self-driving cars?

Self-driving cars are not eliminating all mortalities on the road yet, but they can help reduce the number of fatal accidents. In the past few months, self-driving cars from Tesla and Uber were involved in two fatal accidents. However, 40,000 people died last year from car crashes not involving self-driving cars according to the National Safety Council. Self-driving cars can help reduce that number, maybe one day to zero. The best way to ensure car safety is through testing. A company called Waymo has been developing self-driving technology at Google since 2009. Waymo makes sure their technology follows traffic rules and keeps passengers safe during a ride.

Self-driving cars

As of February 2018, Waymo’s self-driving cars have driven over 5 million miles in regular traffic. That distance is like driving from Florida to California 1,850 times! With that much driving experience, the technology gets better – just like people get better at a task the more they do it. Engineers learn where the car’s technology needs help and try to improve it. So far, Waymo’s cars were involved in only small crashes. All crashes, except one, were caused by another car driven by people- a big hazard for self-driving cars are cars driven by humans!

How does a self-driving car work?

Waymo’s cars are loaded with 3D maps of nearby roads, sidewalks, traffic lights, and stop signs. Just like you need a map and directions to get somewhere, so does the car! Their cars also have cameras, sensors, and software that constantly look around for other cars, people, road work, or unexpected obstacles. These sensors can see much better than our eyes. It can see a helmet as far away as three football fields! When the car sees a moving object on the road, the car’s software (think of it like the car’s brain) predicts what the object might do based on how fast the object is moving or where it is. The car then decides what path to take and how fast it should go to make sure it moves safely.

self-driving car work

Waymo doesn’t have a date yet when it will start selling self-driving cars to the public. Several companies, including Uber, are working on this technology though. Before you know it, you may be sitting in a car, sipping on lemonade, playing with your phone, and getting driven by no one.

Article originally published in Smore Issue #5 May – June 2018. Subscribe to Smore.

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Author

  • Kasha Govind Patel is an American science writer, stand-up comedian,voice artist, and podcaster. She currently works as the deputy weather editor for the Washington Post. She has produced the only regularly-recurring science comedy shows in the United States since 2014. Before her time at the Washington Post, she was a digital storyteller for the NASA Earth Observatory.

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