Self-driving cars are the next big thing. It could be just a couple of months before you find yourself wondering why the driver next to you is not driving. There are two types of self-driving cars: semi-autonomous and autonomous. These cars brake, speed up and steer with limited driver interaction. Safer driving and less congested roads sound pretty good, right? Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. There is big money going into research and development to figure out all the tricky details. Tesla, Google, and Uber have already announced self-driving projects. Will these companies make car history with the new technology?
Are self-driving cars safe?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated 35,398 motor vehicle traffic deaths in 2014. Self-driving cars have the potential to save thousands of lives by using state-of-the-art technology to detect and prevent accidents that would have otherwise been caused by human error. Earlier this year, President Obama proposed $4 billion in the federal budget for driverless car research over the next ten years. The goal is not just accessible, but safer driving. Soon after, the Department of Safety released a 15-point checklist for the design and development of autonomous vehicles. The checklist includes how occupants will be protected in crashes and the requirement of manufacturers to be transparent about how their technology was developed.
What are companies doing?
Tesla has sold tens and thousands of cars with their self-driving feature, Autopilot. The Autopilot software has been recently updated, partly in response to the fatal accident that happened in May. The company has claimed more than 780 million miles traveled using the Autopilot feature. This year, they announced they will get to Level 3 autonomous and the components are being fitted to cars in production right now. For reference, Level 3 autonomous means that the drivers acts as a backup to the autonomous technology.
Google has been testing self-driving cars out of their home base in Mountain View, California. They started their driverless car project in 2009 and have driven more than 1.8 million miles in tests. They have not made as much progress as some of their competitors. They are approaching new projects with caution after Glass internet-connected eyewear failed, according to an unnamed Google source. Just a few days ago, on October 24th, CEO John Krafic announced in Palo Alto that the self-driving car project is transitioning to a “graduating project.” The project will move into its own independent entity. More to come on this in the next couple of months.
Uber is the only company to have brought a driverless car, car-sharing service to the market. This year, Uber has been offering driverless cars to loyal, Pittsburgh customers. The vehicles being used in Pittsburgh are modified Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicles outfitted with camera sensors, lasers, radar and GPS receivers. The company has allocated $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car by 2021 and will continue to make deals with other auto manufacturers.
Oh, the possibilities
Self-driving cars are a complete game changer. Like any other new technology, it will take more time and money before autonomous vehicles are perfected. But for now, imagine all of the awesome possibilities. Parking structures could be completely repurposed and roads may become less congested. Companies would be able to continuously update their self-driving software, reflecting the changing needs of consumers. We can’t wait to see what’s next.