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Pioneer Talks: Testing Automated Vehicles for Commercial Use

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If you have ever seen movies like “Herbie Fully Loaded”, self-driving cars probably seemed unrealistic. Autonomous Vehicles (AVs), or self-driving cars, do exist and are quickly advancing. Peter Rafferty, a member of the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety (TOPs) group, hosted the first Pioneer Talk about AVs to educate the students at the University of Wisconsin Platteville on how they work and where we currently are in their development.

Self-driving cars are currently being tested in ten different cities. Madison is the most recently picked location for AV testing, but we are still very far away from being able to be “hands off, mind off,” Rafferty explained.

Wisconsin is approaching 40,000 deaths and, according to Rafferty, more than 90% of all car deaths are due to human error. AVs would bring the amount of fatalities down by allowing cars to have built-in sensors that will force cars to stop or avoid possible crashes.

“Do you know how many mistakes people make? Peter showed us how many people keep dying from car accidents alone. It’s not a good number,” a sophomore business administration major Walker Waddell said.

Rafferty provided the audience with a simple graphic of how AVs work. The graphic showed where the special equipment is placed in an AV, including cameras, radars, GPS units, controllers and lidar sensors. All of this equipment works together to create a map with its onboard basemap system, sometimes getting down to nearly a centimeter. This is how the car will be able to succeed.

Many AVs are currently released under big name companies, such as Tesla, but these companies are not thinking of safety before releasing their self-driving cars. Tesla claims their vehicles can be driven without the driver paying close attention. This option is not only a highly rewarded ability, but it is also highly controversial and has cause a number of car accidents.

Rafferty showed numerous amounts of example car crashes and many of which involved Tesla cars. One example he focused on was when a Tesla and a 16-wheeler smashed into each other. Tesla then moved their engine from the front of their vehicles to create a front trunk. Rafferty got a laugh from the crowd when he informed us that “Tesla calls these trunks in the front Frunks”.

Tesla claims this makes driving even safer because the windshield has not broken from the collision, but is Tesla really making the right decisions here?

Later in the presentation, Rafferty showed a graph of the five different levels of where AVs are currently and where they are headed. Level one has cars with no automation at all, which is mostly older cars. Level five has fully atomated carss that do not require a driver.

AVs are currently in the level two to level three area where we are hands off, but we still need a driver in the seat paying attention in case the car is not able to react in time. These are the levels that cause the most amount of accidents because drivers are not realizing they should be paying attention and not fully rely on their cars…yet.

Tesla decided they wanted to skip this part because it was too messy, but it has not resulted in many car crashes that could have easily been avoided had they waited just a little longer or even advertised autopilot differently.

“Well, Peter seems pretty confident that this stuff really works and is reliable so why shouldn’t I be,” junior civil engineering major Robert Otto said.

Near the end of the presentation, Rafferty joked about how when we reach levels four or five people might even have the ability to drive drunk because their car would be able to pick them up. This is predicted to bring up alcohol sales while also lowering the deaths by drunk drivers.

The current goal for transportation companies right now is to create a nation-wide connection between cars, traffic signals or any type of device where they can warn each other of how close they are together. This would allow AVs to have a stricter and more accurate way around streets.

“It’s much faster than Wi-Fi, its faster than 4G… it’s a little faster than 5G,” Rafferty said.

Rafferty talked about whether or not he believed AVs would be allowed their own speed limit in the future if highways were larger and created a lane just for autonomous vehicles.

“Technically, yes. We could compact many cars into a small area and allow them to all be programmed to the same speed and distance and keep that perfect. But it’s unlikely they will need their own lane since they will be among manual cars for quite a while. But, technically, yes. They would get their own speed limit,” Rafferty said.

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Pioneer Talks: Testing Automated Vehicles for Commercial Use