Even the best-designed safety measure has a chance of failure. To get around this, and reduce the odds of such a failure becoming a problem, engineers design complex systems with multiple layers of redundancy. This way, if one safety system fails, others can take its place. We see this most frequently in airplanes, where some control systems have triple redundancy to virtually eliminate the chance that a pilot will lose control due to a mechanical failure.
As technology advances and safety systems become more complex, more points of failure can develop. This puts additional pressure on engineers to design safe, redundant systems. As the auto industry continues to invest in automated technology, we should expect to see more redundancy built in to them.
New Autonomous Systems Will Work Together — And Back Each Other Up
"Even the best-designed safety measure has a chance of failure."
One of the strongest arguments in favor of autonomous vehicle systems is improved safety. While we have grown accustomed to it, driving is one of the most dangerous things that a human can do every day. More than 37,000 people die annually in auto accidents each year in the U.S., and the most common causes of those crashes are speeding and drunk driving.
In other words, most accidents are caused by user error. By taking humans out of the equation and automating different aspects of the driving process, engineers hope to make cars much safer.
Since fully automated vehicles are still many years (and numerous regulatory hurdles) away, the next best thing would be cars that require a human operator, yet still include some autonomous features. In a sense, these features would serve as the redundancy that would kick in if the driver makes a mistake.
For example, some high-end vehicle models are being equipped with radar detectors that can monitor the road ahead for obstacles and apply the brakes if they get to close to the car. This could be a lifesaver for drivers who have fallen asleep, or even momentarily taken their eyes off the road. Similar sensors are being introduced into the market that will monitor a vehicle's blind spots and warn drivers if they are about to collide with something next to them.
In the future, as these systems are perfected and added to a wider variety of vehicle models, they will build off each other's strengths. Driver input will be steadily minimized, and vehicles may come equipped with additional sets of auxiliary sensors whose purpose will be to sort through any conflicting information collected by the main sensors. Coordinating this new technology will be the key to getting fully autonomous vehicles on the road in large numbers.