A recent University of Delaware study predicts driverless car technology could bring big changes to American roadways. With improved traffic coordination and fuel efficiency capacities, driverless cars may reduce the need for traffic lights and eliminate speeding tickets in the future. Researchers used simulation software and driving simulation facilities to explore the most current innovations in automated driver technology.
Adjustment to Driving Conditions
A major advantage of driverless cars is their ability to be connected to other vehicles. This allows automated cars to adjust to driving conditions, such as the speed and location of the cars around them, without any input from drivers. By automatically controlling the speed and direction of a car based on driving conditions, driverless cars can greatly reduce the amount of speeding on roadways. Driverless cars can be programmed to drive at optimal acceleration and deceleration rates in speed reduction zones.
The ability of driverless cars to interact with each other can also facilitate the coordination of traffic patterns. When automated cars are properly connected, they can time their crossings at intersections to eliminate the need for traffic control signals, such as traffic lights or stop signs. Researchers have used control theory to develop algorithms to read traffic situations and predict driver behavior in programming driverless cars.
Better Fuel Efficiency
Another significant finding of the study was the high energy efficiency associated with driverless technology. By reducing driving times and the rates of speeding, driverless cars conserve fuel. Driverless cars use 19 to 22 percent less fuel and reduce driving time by 26 to 30 percent than vehicles operated by human drivers. Audi’s driverless car, the Audi A3 e-tron, has increased efficiency ratings by 20 percent.
To encourage the development of cars with better fuel efficiency, the U.S. Department of Energy has funded several driverless car research programs, including the Smart Mobility Initiative and the Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy’s NEXT-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated On-Road Vehicles (NEXTCAR) program. These programs focus on developing energy efficient mobility systems that will reduce the amount of fuel needed for cars to operate in the future.
Driverless technology depends strongly on advanced programming and automation. When the technology behind a driverless car fails, the results can be detrimental to the safety of drivers. Traffic safety experts caution that driverless cars pose a serious risk for major car accidents when systems malfunction. When automation fails or when operators of driverless cars fail to remain vigilant for system malfunctions, collisions are more likely to occur. When a driverless car is unable to decelerate suddenly, or an automatic stopping mechanism fails to function, dangerous rear-end collisions can take place.
Car collisions can result in life-changing physical injuries, including broken bones, loss of limbs, back injuries, internal bleeding, organ damage, traumatic brain injuries, and even fatality. As new driverless technology continues to develop, an increased focus on the safety risk of malfunctioning systems will likely follow.
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