WASHINGTON, October 21, 2016 – The dreams of developing cars that can drive themselves is nothing new. As far back as 1969, National Geographic Magazine ranked the self-driving car as being among the most promising innovations for the future of human mobility. The article expressed the concern we all feel about trusting ourselves riding in a computer-guided vehicle with no driver in control.
But it went on to offset those fears by explaining that for the system to work safely, computers would also be controlling the other cars too.
They envisioned a world where once only driverless cars were allowed on the road. Reckless or drunk drivers would no longer jeopardize our lives. Red-light runners would be a thing of the past. Cheap car insurance should be a reality, and police agencies will be able to use their officers to control crime rather than traffic.
Today the cities of the world are becoming increasingly burdened with excessive automobile traffic and gridlock. Automobile commute time between home and work is growing longer, and tempers flare as drivers struggle to make their way home each night through heavier traffic.
The simplest traffic accident often leads to road rage. Frustrated drivers run red lights and speed attempting to overcome traffic delays. Is there any relief in sight? Some in the automobile and traffic industry say there is relief and its not at the end of a very long tunnel. That relief, they say, will come in the form of self-driving cars.
However, this leap in automobile transportation will be different than previous years.
Traditional automobile manufacturers now face competition from a new front: technology startup companies loaded with cash and creative people. In this case, competition is good. New alliances between these two entities, along with assistance and cooperation from universities, is producing a sudden spurt forward in global mobility systems.
Nearly forty years later, these concepts are exiting the world of science fiction and approaching reality. Since 2009, Google computer-controlled cars have self-driven over 1.5 million miles during tests across the United States.
Tesla, a technology company, is already producing electric cars that are able to take over part of the driving. Unfortunately, a recent fatal accident involving a Tesla automobile has thrown some doubt over the Tesla on-board system. Until a final report as to the cause of the accident is released, self-driving car skeptics will continue to voice their skepticism.
Progress continues, however. Faraday Future, a Los Angeles-based company, has received recent approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to begin testing self-driving cars on the state’s roads and highways.
In the San Francisco area, mysterious unmarked white vans loaded with cameras and antennae have been spotted driving along the bay area roads. Speculation is rampant that a silicon- valley tech giant like Apple might own those mystery vans.
Most Americans have visited one of the Disney Theme parks during their lifetime. Many probably have “driven” the small cars that run on tracks through the Disney Autoplex. Universal Studios Florida newest attraction Kong on Skill Island has driverless open air ‘vans’ that transport up to 72 guests through the attraction.
Translate that carefree, hands-off ride to a ride in a full size vehicle controlled not by tracks but by computers. That’s the promise self-driving cars offers.
The technology, once it’s perfected, is destined to be used in mass transportation systems. Self-driving buses will be common someday. The trucking industry is already under pressure from a lack of qualified truck drivers.
Fleets of self-driving tractors pulling freight-loaded trailers across country will solve that problem once and for all.
Competition will be fierce in the self-driving taxi market. Google plans to eventually deploy its own multi-sized autonomous fleet in defined areas like college campuses and corporate office parks. This plan will probably create a turf-war with Uber, the ride-sharing giant that already covers over 75 percent of the US populace.
With 1.1 million Uber drivers currently delivering 3 million rides a day, odds are that Uber self-driving vehicles are already on the drawing board.
With automotive industry leaders like Kia, Volvo, Toyota and Nissan all having promised consumer-ready self-driving vehicles by 2020, it’s safe to say the self-driving car is nearing reality.