Technology · Transportation

Look Ma, No Hands!

Google autonomous car

When I learned that Uber, my favorite mode of transportation, was testing a driverless Ford Fusion Hybrid on Pittsburgh city streets, I wondered just how far we’d really come in the development of the driverless car. I know, I know, Google has been testing them in Silicon Valley and parts west for some time, but this was pretty close to home! So I signed up for a Google alert.

What I learned was a little unnerving.

 First of all, every major car producer is deep into developing a driverless car.

Already Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla have released self-driving features that give the cars some ability to drive themselves. Mercedes, for instance, has created driver assistance features such as auto-braking, active lane-keeping, adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning systems.

The consensus among the experts and the auto makers themselves is that it is no longer a question of if but when we can expect to see driverless cars on the road

According to Business Insider, fully autonomous cars that can drive themselves from point A to B and encounter the entire range of on-road scenarios without needing any interaction from the driver will be available within the next five years. Ford CEO Mark Fields makes an even more aggressive prediction claiming that Ford will have a fulliy autonomous car in four years. Four years!!

However there are many legal and insurance matters that will require resolution before autonomous cars take to the road. Who is responsible when a driverless car has an accident? The car owner? The software company? The manufacturer? And how do you determine fault?

Nevertheless it seems the consensus is that by 2025 or 2030, we will have fully autonomous (no stand by driver needed) cars on the road. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has said he expects to have a full fleet of driverless cars by 2030.

Although it seems a bit counterintuitive at first, we are told driverless cars will make the roadways safer by far. Of course there will be accidents due to computer glitches, but there are accidents now, most of which occur through human error and could be prevented by cars that won’t be drunk, angry, texting, sleepy or driving the wrong way on a divided highway.

Even if the predictions of the car manufacturers are overly optimistic and taking into account the difficulties of ironing out the legal and regulatory aspects, there’s no doubt in my mind that driverless cars are coming—maybe sooner that we think.

For every person who loves to drive or who is not convinced these cars are safe and will never willingly relinquish control of driving, there are others —the early adopters— who will be eager to accept the latest technology. I believe that driverless cars will be designed incrementally with more and more features that permit the car to take over completely. Gradually all but the most skeptical will get used to the idea and trust the driverless car.

After that, it is only a matter of time before the steering wheel and the pedals will disappear. Autonomous car expert Brad Templeton, who has advised Google, believes that car ownership will then decline and instead of buying cars, people will buy rides from mobility companies with fleets of driverless cars using a mobility plan similar to your mobile phone plan.

Well—what do you think? Are we ready for this?