Autonomous vehicles promise to reduce commute times — and save lives
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Autonomous vehicles promise to reduce commute times — and save lives

More than 40,000 people die every year in car crashes in the United States alone, according to the National Safety Council. To put that figure in perspective, that’s about as many American casualties as in the entire Vietnam war.

Fortunately, help is on the way in the form of autonomous vehicles. “When you think about it, the main reason for car accidents are humans,” says Yosi Taguri, CEO of MissingLink.ai. “Take the humans out of the equation, you get more safety.”

At the same time, in a less horrifying, but also significant statistic, Americans lose an average of 97 hours a year stuck in traffic, according to mobility analytics firm INRIX. Aside from its toll on mental health, the lost time also has an economic impact. In 2018, for example, the time spent in traffic added up to almost $87 billion in lost productivity at an average cost of $1,248 per driver.

Autonomous vehicles will help here as well, even before achieving full autonomy. The promise of self-driving cars is part of the focus of Samsung NEXT’s “End of the Beginning” episode on Smart Cities.

Autonomous cars to the rescue
Once the stuff of science fiction, autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves through city streets and along highways with little to no human intervention are arriving on the scene.

Although still in development, the technology behind autonomous vehicles—from sensors to artificial intelligence—is advancing to the point that the auto industry is on the verge of a self-driving car revolution. Analytics firm IHS Market estimates that annual global sales of autonomous vehicles could hit 33 million by 2040.

The Society of Automotive Engineers defines autonomy for vehicles on a spectrum of six levels. Level 0 indicates no autonomous features aside from basic cruise control. Cars at Level 1 autonomy, including many in production today, have at least one advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) on board—for example, adaptive cruise control that enables the car to automatically adjust speed to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of it.

Level 2 autonomy allows a car to coordinate two or more ADAS features, for example, adaptive cruise control and automatic lane-keeping. Level 2 cars have also entered production. Level 3 autonomy, allowing cars to operate without driver intervention part-time, is in the wings for production cars, while Level 4—allowing full autonomy throughout a trip—and Level 5, requiring no human supervision—are still over the horizon.

Improved safety and greater productivity
In addition to 360-degree fields of view, super-human reflexes, and always-alert systems, autonomous cars will improve on human driving in their awareness of each other. Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication will soon allow cars to inform each other of their speed and position relative to each other, further increasing safety and allowing vehicles to more easily keep safe following distances from each other.

Such connectivity has the potential to reduce or even eliminate traffic jams as vehicles keep each other apprised of upcoming road conditions and help each other reroute around potential bottlenecks, saving time and frustration for drivers and passengers.

Autonomous vehicles will also reduce commuting time by driving more efficiently than we can, says Deborah Conway, ventures associate at Samsung NEXT. “We’re too fast at times, we’re too slow at times, we brake at times. We handle stoplights and stop signs very differently. All of this adds up to an aggregate huge amount of wasted time.”

V2V connectivity also will enable cars to learn from each other’s mistakes, says Gus Warren, managing director at Samsung NEXT Ventures. Thanks to V2V communications, she adds, “Autonomous cars, when they make a mistake, they learn from it, and they tell all the other cars.”

Starting at Level 4 autonomy, vehicles will also free-up their human drivers from mundane driving chores, alerting them to take over in only the most challenging conditions and letting them make more productive use of the time they do have to spend commuting.

The future of self-driving vehicles
Despite steady advances, autonomous cars will continue for some time to struggle with what developers refer to as edge cases—that is, those circumstances that are hard to predict and that the artificial intelligence driving the vehicles hasn’t encountered before.

For example, it’s going to take even better technology before self-driving cars can reliably navigate Manhattan in a snowstorm, says Warren. But, he adds, autonomous vehicles will improve safety and efficiency well before reaching the highest levels of autonomy. The benefits will start to emerge before fully autonomous Level 5 cars are on the road.

In the meantime, says Conway, “Semi-autonomous is a huge necessary step for developing the technology, but also, more importantly, consumer education and awareness.” That education and awareness, she says, is as important as advancing technology for realizing the full potential of autonomous vehicles, because, ultimately the technology will need to serve people rather than the other way around.

Conway describes her work at Samsung NEXT, which invests in many of the technologies needed for autonomous vehicles, as putting people first. “When we look at the future of the world, when we look at what’s next, we come to it with a human-centric lens.”

The future of autonomous vehicles looks bright ahead. “Tech is so exciting,” says Conway, “because it can create huge efficiencies in how we live our lives and how we move throughout our days.”


Learn more about the future of driving and smart cities by watching the End of the Beginning.

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