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Approaches to Implementing Technology

There are four levels of vehicle automation technology. Fully self-driving cars are considered Level 4, requiring no human intervention, while Level 2 includes automated cars that allow two major functions to be taken out of the driver’s control. These Level 2 cars are much more prevalent on our roads today, with features like adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, and parking assist being available on many vehicle models currently being sold. As we move toward cars with more and more automation, there appear to be two approaches to how driverless technology (Level 4) can best be implemented.

One approach, championed by Google, is to jump straight to full automation. Proponents of the full automation approach argue that the safety benefits of driverless vehicles will not be maximized until vehicles are fully automated. In fact, they believe that a gradual approach to automation is more dangerous, arguing that drivers will put too much trust in features that are not meant to be viewed as full-automation, leading to more distracted driving and problems during transitions when the driver needs to take over from the automation. Further, those in favor of jumping straight to driverless cars note that many of the benefits of automation, such as allowing for elderly, disabled, and impaired persons to be transported, will only come to fruition with fully automated cars.

The other approach is a more gradual approach and seems to be favored by most car companies. Under the gradual approach, cars would incrementally add automation features. As technology was added, computers would do more of the driving and humans would do less, increasing safety along the way and eventually leading to a fully automated vehicle. The gradual approach sees technology such as adaptive cruise control (that controls for speed and centers within the lane) and traffic jam assist (which allows a car to automatically follow the car in front of it in certain conditions) as important steps that make driving safer and allow drivers to gradually adjust to driverless technology.

While there are pros and cons to each approach, America currently appears to be following the gradual approach. Self-driving technology is already on our streets, albeit in a limited capacity. With each new automation option and update to existing driverless features, our society is inching closer and closer to truly driverless cars.

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