Self Driving Cars Impact on Health and Medicine
Automated cars have been getting a lot of attention lately. Google’s self-driving car program has drawn headlines for years as the company improves its capabilities and takes it on ever more public test drives, but it’s not the only company working on the technology.
Many major car manufacturers and academic research teams are building their own automated cars. In fact, the very concept dates back to the 1980s (source: http://www.computerhistory.org/atchm/where-to-a-history-of-autonomous-vehicles/). There are a lot of advantages to a potential automated car, but one of the most attractive is the safety aspect.
Eliminating Human Error
Transportation has always been subject to human error, and nowhere is this more apparent than in driving. Intoxication, fatigue, or just plain inattention can lead to crashes, causing serious injuries or death. An error by a driver can endanger not only themselves, but everyone around them. That’s exactly the kind of thing that automated cars are designed to circumvent. Computers can’t get drunk or tired. They can only make mistakes when they encounter truly unexpected situations that their programmers didn’t anticipate.
Of course, it takes a lot of time and resources to build a car that can drive itself. In fact, making an automated car work properly is so complex that it is impossible for programmers to code the entire process. It doesn’t take humans much time to learn to drive, but computers have a much harder time of it.
That is why automated car researchers have tried a new tactic, an approach called machine learning. Machine learning involves letting computers figure out how to drive by themselves. The programmers provide some basic starting points, and then they unleash the automated car on real-world driving situations. Using machine learning, the computer can test out different driving actions to find out what works and what doesn’t as it tried to get from Point A to Point B.
Development teams start out with practice tracks, but eventually they need to venture out to actual roads with other, human drivers- just like the way teenagers graduate from parking lots to local roads and then the highway.
The potential health benefits are enormous. In 2013 alone, about 33,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the US, a third of all accidental deaths (source: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm).
Obviously, putting automated cars on the road is not going to bring that number down to zero. If most or all cars become automated, however, then they can not only prevent human error from causing fatalities, but also create a network. Automated cars might be able to “talk” to each other over wifi, so they will all be aware of each other’s position and speed. That will further reduce the chances of crashes (source: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/cars-will-one-day-talk/).
Most people dislike driving because it is monotonous, requires a lot of attention, and involves risk. Automated cars might soon be able to tackle these problems while making driving a safer experience for everyone on the road. They won’t be here within five years, but perhaps in fifteen, nobody will drive anymore.