Driverless car being testing at Stanford University

Driverless Cars: Exciting Opportunity or Futuristic Dream?

The dream of a driverless car is nearly as old as the automobile itself, but the first truly autonomous cars did not appear until the 1980s. Since then, car manufacturers have been diligently working toward a self-driven car for the mass market. The advent of the Digital Age has greatly accelerated its development, and new models, made by car companies as well as by the search engine giant Google, seem tantalizingly within reach of the consumer.

Among the many benefits advocates for these vehicles are promising are reduced accident rates, faster and more productive commutes, more relaxed road trips, and the extension of the driving years for seniors. So, it is only natural that some of us are eager for self-driving cars to hit the market.

However, while the technology has promise, there is trepidation from some quarters about this new high-tech wonder. Some experts doubt that driverless cars will ever fully replicate the complexity, intuition and nuance that a human driver brings to the wheel.

Real-world testing of prototypes shows that autonomous vehicles are still not quite ready for the myriad unpredictable situations encountered when operating off the test track. Google’s fully autonomous car has been confused by the behavior of human drivers at four-way stops (who hasn’t?) and by bicyclists doing rack stands at stop signs (balancing on the pedals to stay in place while rocking back and forth). It has also swerved needlessly after mistaking a poorly parked car for one about to enter traffic.

Then there are technical issues, such as the potential for human error during programming and manufacturing, the dangers of computer glitches, and the security risks associated with hacking. Perhaps the most imposing challenge for car manufacturers and governments alike is making sure that the mapping systems, used in conjunction with the onboard sensors for navigation, are accurate. The intricacy and ever-changing nature of the world’s roadways will make the real-time updating of these systems critical to the practical use and safety of these vehicles.

In addition to these concerns, there are legal issues that have yet to be worked out, such as how insurance will be handled. Will the owner of the car, its manufacturer, or both shoulder the liability when an accident occurs? If they share it, what proportion will each pay?

As it now stands, there will be regulatory challenges for car companies to overcome before governments allow the use of these vehicles by the public. Look for a more gradual evolution toward the automatic vehicle through the introduction of features such as collision avoidance, autonomous braking systems, and adaptive cruise control and headlights.

In spite of all the buzz about the self-driving car becoming a reality in the near term, experts say it is still many years away. So if you are a senior hoping that the autonomous car will arrive to extend your driving years and let you catch up on your reading on the way to the grandkids, you may have to wait a while.

 

Sources:

Google’s Driverless Car Got Confused By A Cyclist, By Danny Lewis, smithsonian.com, September 1, 2015 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/googles-driverless-car-got-confused-cyclist-180956465/?no-ist

Google’s Driverless Cars Run Into Problem: Cars With Drivers, By Matt Richtel and Conor Dougherty, The New York Times website, September 1, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/technology/personaltech/google-says-its-not-the-driverless-cars-fault-its-other-drivers.html

The Driverless Car Is (Almost) Here, by David Dudley, AARP, Dec 2014/Jan 2015 http://member.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/info-2014/google-self-driving-car.html

Self-Driving Cars Will Be A Huge Deal For The Elderly And Handicapped, by Alex Davies, Business Insider, Aug 29, 2013 http://www.businessinsider.com/self-driving-cars-benefit-the-elderly-2013-8

Why Self-Driving Cars Will Change Retirement, By Laura Hedli, Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2014 http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-self-driving-cars-will-change-retirement-1413147945

Sorry To Disappoint, But Driverless Cars Will Still Need Drivers, opinion by Michael Nees of Lafayette College, Newsweek, May 10, 2015 http://www.newsweek.com/sorry-disappoint-driverless-cars-will-still-need-drivers-330102

Google Self-Driving Car Project, Google web page https://www.google.com/selfdrivingcar/

There’s Still One Major Problem With Google’s Self-Driving Cars, by Lisa Eadicicco, Business Insider, August 28, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/google-self-driving-car-problems-2014-8

 

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