The future of driving
As the era of robots is approaching, self-driving cars are a hot topic.
The transition to self-driving cars will be gradual. Initially, cars will be able to drive autonomously only in perfect road conditions, e.g. on the well-marked freeway. Perhaps initially we will have single lanes for self-driving cars, where it will be forbidden for humans to operate the steering wheel, except for critical situations. Eventually robot-only lanes will be expanded to entire sections of roads and freeways. Autonomous vehicles will be much safer and faster on the freeway than human-operated vehicles.
Less developed countries will soon become an excellent testbed for self-driving cars. In many countries, the quality of roads is very low, some roads don’t have lane markings and are full of obstacles. Also, the road laws don’t seem to apply in many countries and are treated by drivers only as guidelines. Driving in these countries is going to be a great challenge for self-driving cars.
Now, here is an idea for a self-driving car feature.
Imagine driving on a winding road with a high speed limit behind a tractor or another slow vehicle. You cannot overtake it, because you cannot see far enough ahead. A self-driving car could be equipped with a drone. When visibility is limited, the car could deploy the drone to check out the conditions ahead. The drone would be continuously sending images and its position back to the car, so the car would know, whether it’s safe to overtake even if there is no visibility. The self-driving car would know, that there are no other cars on the lane in the opposite direction.
The drone could also be equipped with a radar, which would make it useful in foggy conditions. Upon encountering fog, the car would deploy the drone and could keep driving at a high speed, because it would have the image of the road ahead.
The drone’s battery would have a limited capacity, so the drone could only be deployed for a limited time, and would need to return to the car for charging. A more expensive self-driving car could be equipped with two drones. While one drone is in operation, the other drone could be charging.
Ideally, the drones should be cheap and should use a standardized communication protocol as well as support a standardized docking mechanism. It would be common to lose a drone, so it should be cheap to buy a new one, or upgrade it.
The drones would probably be useful to self-driving cars even if all cars were self-driving and communicating with each other, esp. in cases where road visibility is limited and pedestrians or animals are present near the road.