Are We Ready for Self-Driving Cars?

Technology is going to transform personal transportation over the next few decades. With top tech companies such as Google in Mountain View as well as major automobile companies investing in self-driving car technology, it is only a matter of time before we arrive at a point when just about every car is autonomous and runs on electricity rather than fossil fuels.

Proponents claim these auto-piloted vehicles will reduce accidents, minimize congestion, offer freedom for those otherwise unable to drive and allow passengers to focus on other things instead of driving. Critics state concerns about how these computerized cars will handle hazardous driving conditions and what the legal and ethical ramifications may be should there be an accident.

Centuries ago, it took time to transition from the horse and buggy over to what was then an incredibly high-tech invention, the automobile. Infrastructure had to be created. Roads, intersections, traffic signs and signals, and gas stations had to be designed and implemented as well as new rules and laws employed. Many people gradually stopped buying hay and grain, and began using their horse barns and paddocks for other purposes. Garages became integral parts of most homes. Simple roads grew to expressways, then highways and multi-lane freeways. The Sunday drive soon became the daily drive as this method of transportation became faster and cheaper.

We will once again undergo a noteworthy transition to the now futuristic cars that offer self-driving capabilities. There will be infrastructure changes as today’s roadways are built around the need for human safety. Once a driverless revolution takes place, the need for traffic lights will fade, as computer-controlled cars will be able to ‘feed’ through intersections more quickly. But it appears autonomous vehicles are indeed the inevitable next wave of personal transportation.

In addition to the Google self-driving car, other auto-makers are also investing in what they see as the wave of the future. Tesla, Delphi Automotive, Nissan, Audi and Bosch are all developing and testing various automated functions and technologies. As of February 2016, Google has driven their test fleet in autonomous mode 1,452,177 miles.

Today’s automobiles are also designed specifically around the driver, with visibility paramount and all necessary controls within reach. In driverless cars, the interior can be completely reconfigured. Some may have seats facing each other with tables in the center to be used as work or entertainment spaces with the windshield used as a movie screen. Others could be configured or transformed into sleeper cars, so occupants can rest while travelling between long distances. Eventually, human driven cars may fade away, only used by enthusiasts for Sundays drives on ‘historic’ roads while the majority of people are ‘chauffeured’ to and from work, school and other destinations in autonomous automobiles.

Because of the enormity of change needed, it will be quite some time before a completely driverless personal transportation is mainstream. Legal and ethical issues need to be fleshed out, as does an understanding and implementation of necessary infrastructure. Currently, self-driving vehicles are cost-prohibitive for most and the technology behind them needs to undergo rigorous testing to insure it is fail-proof.

But the pros of the driverless car are many: minimized accidents, increased freedom for those unable to drive, reduced fuel consumption, and the increase of luxury time for passengers, who will be able to relinquish control and enjoy the ride.