An autonomous vehicle zooms down the road as it scans its surroundings for information about its environment. (Photo illustration by Aaron Mikail)
Brentwood School

The race to the first autonomous car

Multiple automotive companies are competing to create and release their first autonomous cars, according to Techworld.

Dating back to the 1920s, car companies have experimented with the idea of inventing autonomous cars, and during the 1950s prototypes started becoming successful, according to the Atlantic.

It was not until the 1980s when progress was made, and the first autonomous vehicles were created, according to Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute.

Fast forward to the present day and many big brand companies are on the verge of creating their first fully autonomous vehicles including Apple, Uber, Volvo, BMW and Waymo, according to Techworld

According to Synopsys, a Silicon Valley-based organization that creates and verifies new technology, there are six different levels of autonomy. The different levels depending on the amount of human attention needed to operate the vehicle.

Levels one to three require sufficient amounts of human attention, while levels four to five require minimal attention. Level six is defined as the top level. Level six vehicles are fully autonomous and require almost no human attention.

Many big brand car companies are on their way to achieving level six driving automation. Right now, there are many cars on the market that can already achieve lower levels. The question is when people can expect to see fully autonomous cars on the streets.

Companies including Mercedes Benz, Audi and Google, have created their own fully operational prototypes and are working to get their cars to be fully autonomous. 

In August 2016, nuTonomy, a tech startup, launched its first self-driving taxis in Singapore. Competing with companies such as Google and Uber, nuTonomy focused on becoming a big name in the autonomous vehicle market.

In June 2017, Audi announced that its new A8 would be semi-autonomous using its Audi AI system. The driver would no longer have to pay attention to driving tasks, making the A8 the first production car to be categorized as a level three automated vehicle.

Just recently in December 2019, Mercedes Benz and Bosch started testing their first autonomous taxi service on the streets of San Jose. A select group of passengers reserved a ride through the mobile app experienced the vehicle. The recent tests will help advance Mercedes Benz’s autonomous technology.  

As autonomous driving continues to be tested, one may question the safety of the vehicles. In many of the autonomous cars, a person is monitoring the ride making sure everything is functioning properly; however, there have been instances where accidents have occurred. 

In March 2018, a woman was killed by one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles. According to the New York Times, the accident was believed to be the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology. 

The accident hindered the progress of autonomous vehicles as state regulators and government officials became more hesitant to allow testing on public roads. 

Autonomous cars have been developed around the world for decades. Once just an idea, autonomous cars have become a reality. As technology advances, the level of autonomy only increases. Looking to the future, there could come a time when driving becomes obsolete, and the first fully autonomous cars will become available to consumers. 


Editor’s note: This story was updated to attribute several facts to their sources on March 18 at 12:45 p.m.