Experts claim that self-driving cars won’t be practical for everyday use until 2050. For ride-hailing services, the projection is sooner. But weeks away? Really?
Uber ready to autonomously roll
Per an announcement by Uber on August 18, customers will be able to actually hail self-driving cars in Pittsburgh later this month. This is a significant shift from the road tests its Pennsylvania-based technology facility has been conducting. While there will be an engineer in the driver’s seat and a co-pilot by his or her side to monitor the experience in its early stages, this is a radical leap forward for autonomous vehicles.
Ford commits resources to slash decades
Seemingly in tandem with the Uber announcement, Ford Motor Company of America has declared it will start “mass-producing” fully autonomous, self-driving vehicle fleets for ride-hailing and ride-sharing services by 2021. The auto behemoth has joined such leaders as Google, GM, Volvo and Tesla to cut decades out of the connected car equation, creating a frenzy of chatter in the automotive community and beyond.
While these developments address the ride-hailing and ride-sharing needs of the public, what does this mean for the individual automobile owner who may be interested in buying one of these new rides for him or herself? Is 2050 a far too conservative estimate now given the current push for innovation?
Self-driving cars are nothing new
Several automobile companies have been toying with at least partial autonomy in their vehicles for some time. Tesla, for example, currently allows you to put your automobile on autopilot while you ride. Automakers such as Ford, GM and Volvo are fast at work to produce something that’s completely driverless. Needless to say, the first batch will be luxury vehicles with matching price tags, which will put them out of reach for a majority of the public for some time. But the cost of privately owning an autonomous vehicle anytime soon goes beyond the financial.
Hurdles to drive over
For all intents and purposes, the automobiles themselves are not delaying the introduction of fully-connected vehicles onto the streets. Other hurdles include insurance, safely navigating side roads with ambiguous signage, and cyber security, to name a few.
The “who” of driverless auto insurance
In regards to insurance, how would it work for a driverless automobile? Who’s responsible if there’s an accident? Recently, there have been documented cases of the autopilot features causing mishaps in Teslas and a few of Google’s test vehicles have gotten into minor fender benders. All of this raises questions about safety and fault. While Volvo has said it will bear the responsibility in collisions involving its self-driving cars, insurance companies are hard at work figuring out how to address the imminent future of autonomous vehicle ownership.
Driverless may not be suitable everywhere
As mentioned, maneuvering through the countless places where an automobile travels poses the biggest challenge for autonomous technology. Going driverless is made possible by the operating systems that wirelessly read road signs, communicate with other vehicles (V2V) and infrastructure that enables unmanned navigation. Signage for streets and highways is not universal, so there is no one “language” for the system to consistently interpret. Add to that the fact that many people live in places that have a less structured road system–farms, rural areas, countrysides– and that different areas have their own local rules–”Pittsburgh Left,” “California Stop”–and it’s even more difficult for a vehicle to determine where it’s going and how to navigate its way there.
Safety, from the inside out
As you watch the progress of the connected car over the years, it’s clear these announcements were inevitable. Progress, however, appears to be advancing faster than predicted. So how can auto manufacturers and legislators protect riders from autonomous car accidents and cyber attacks?
Currently, no one can guarantee complete protection from collisions or the infiltration of driverless technology. All the companies involved in the advancement of these innovations, however, are focused on every aspect of making the vehicles safe, both inside and out. Cyber hacking is as big a concern because accidents involving these highly-connected operating systems create risks for everyone–from passengers, owners, manufacturers to legislators–that must be addressed.
Realizing a here and now future
Maybe you won’t be able to ride-hail or ride-share a driverless vehicle tomorrow, but by Christmas 2016? Definitely, if Uber is successful. Soon after, private vehicles equipped with autonomous systems are bound to follow.
There are still bugs to work out with every aspect of autonomous driving, and fixing them is coming faster due to the heavy focus on turning a dream into a reality. Changing all the outstanding issues needed to accommodate a driverless future takes more than incentives. Auto manufacturers and lawmakers need to work together now, because the future of self-driving cars is here.
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