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Driverless Cars - Autonomous Vehicles That Drive Themselves

Driverless Cars Will Be Here Sooner Than You Think

The ringtone on my iPhone is the very distinctive theme music from the TV show Knight Rider. As a kid growing up in the 80s, I was one of millions who loved KITT, the car that could drive itself.  Now, after many years of development, it appears the technology is coming soon to make it so we can all ride around in cars that drive themselves.   Research and computer modeling conducted by Accenture in collaboration with the Stevens Institute of Technology projects that approximately 23 million fully autonomous driverless cars will be traveling U.S. highways by 2035 (out of about 250 million total cars and trucks registered in the U.S.).  That means that within the next few years, large numbers of driverless cars will be hitting the road.

Automobile manufacturers in the US and around the world are making large investments in bringing autonomous vehicle technology to fruition. Many of the technological challenges have been overcome and now both industry and government are working out how to implement this transformative technology

Driverless cars (also commonly called autonomous vehicles) are going to be a part of our daily lives a lot quicker than most people think.  Two weeks ago, G.M.’s president, Daniel Ammann announced that their driverless cars will be rolled out “in a matter of quarters, not years”.

Tesla has been working on autonomous vehicle technology for several years and has already fielded it’s “Autopilot” technology that has the ability for the car to steer itself in a limited capacity.  In 2016, a Model S with Autopilot engaged turned into the side of a truck while making a left turn and this incident has spurred on legislative efforts to regulate the emerging technology.

Ford is also working aggressively to put driverless cars on the road. They’re working directly with Dominos Pizza, which has recognized how much money they would save on deliveries when the driver is removed as a cost factor. They are also studying how people react psychologically when they first see driverless cars. There is a concern that until people get used to the idea that people might freak out and actually cause an accident when they see no driver behind the wheel.

And Uber has been working for years on autonomous vehicle technology, with the goal of fielding driverless Uber cars by 2020.  At Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center (ATC), researchers and software analysts work in collaboration with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University to develop the technology needed to complete that goal.  Uber has announced a partnership with Volvo and GM has an autonomous vehicle partnership with Lyft.  Apple and Google also have very established programs working towards driverless vehicle technology.  And manufacturers in other countries are also working hard and making major investments to meet the challenges of driverless car technology.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the largest union representing commercial vehicle drivers, has been actively lobbying to protect the many jobs that are threatened by the technology.  They cite the loss of jobs and the possible safety issues as reasons for why manufacturers should not be pursuing this technology.  But the technology has matured to a point that there is no turning back.  And too many industries, seeing the cost savings involved with using the technology, are actively partnering with vehicle manufacturers to bring the autonomous vehicle technology to fruition.  So no one manufacturer will stop their development for fear of being left behind by their competitors.

Beyond the technological hurdles, there are many other questions that must be answered before we can successfully implement such transformative technology.

Some questions involve the legal aspects of driverless vehicles. A passenger won’t be responsible for an accident but who will be?  Is it the vehicle owner that’s responsible for the accident or the software company that makes the automation software or the company or municipality that controls the communications between vehicles?

Will the concept of an individual owning their own vehicle start to become less common? If GM, Uber, Lyft and others can make the daily use of their vehicles less expensive per month than the monthly cost of ownership and operation of a private vehicle, then many people may opt to not own one. How will this affect companies like car dealerships, car rental companies, vehicle insurance companies and other companies that supply products and services to people who own their own vehicles?

How will municipalities deal with the loss of revenue from traffic infractions and DUIs? Will departments be reducing the number of police officers at some point once the technology becomes pervasive? Will they end up adding some type of mileage usage tax per individual?

Many of these questions have a common theme: loss of jobs. How are we going to handle the loss of jobs due to automobile automation? Where do unskilled workers go to make a living? What do truck drivers do when they are replaced by automation? Millions of jobs will be affected and society as a whole will have to figure out how to adjust to the changes. The questions above have been posed for years as speculation. But now, as the technology matures, we are going to have to come up with some answers fast.

 

Ed Ruth

About rutheg

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8 comments

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