From rocket packs and robotic butlers to flying cars and personal gyrocopters, we’ve been promised all sorts of fancy gadgets that have never come to pass. But one staple of science fiction could become a reality in the very near future: the autonomous car. In fact, companies like Google have already made significant inroads into this technology, and others, like Apple and Uber, are rumored to be working on their own. For once, the pages of science fiction could come true.
What is remarkable about self-driving cars is that they’re already here – they just aren’t quite commercially viable yet. But they soon will be. In fact, Google’s self-driving car fleet has amassed more than one million miles of autonomous driving. Even with some minor hiccups along the way, the promise of self-driving cars has reached the point that congressional hearings have been held to determine the future of this technology. Suffice to say, your car could be autonomous in the not-too-distant future. But what does that mean for you, your family, and the world at large?
What Does a Future with Self-Driving Cars Look Like?
That is a question everyone is trying to figure out the answer to. What sort of legislative hurdles will pop-up? What new laws will be drafted and enforced? Should passengers be required to take over at a moment’s notice? And does the arrival of self-driving cars mean the removal of your privilege to drive? Until every human driver is off of the road, there still exists the possibility of human error leading to a crash – so what does a world with both human-operated and autonomous cars look like?
Ultimately, nobody knows the answers to these questions for certain. Perhaps it’s possible that once introduced, only the most dedicated car enthusiasts will opt to drive themselves. Just as the horse has become a recreational pastime for owners, rather than a beast of burden, perhaps human-operated cars will go in the same direction. And perhaps today’s existing laws can be adapted and re-purposed to fit autonomous vehicles. Your car may do the driving for you in the future, but don’t be surprised if open alcohol containers continue to be verboten and you’re still required to wear your seatbelt.
One thing that is certain about autonomous cars is the growing interest that companies – and to some extent, the public at large – are taking in this technology. Companies like Qualcomm are already finding potential vehicle applications for their mobile processors, such as the Snapdragon 820A, and Apple has been scooping up auto engineers left and right for a new battery division – what many assume is the first step to an eventual electric autonomous vehicle. And the government is taking steps to accommodate for self-driving cars, too. California recently drafted official requirements for the public deployment of self-driving vehicles. But why all of this fuss? Well, because autonomous cars have the potential to completely change the way people get around.
The Promise of Self-Driving Cars
The possibilities of self-driving and fully autonomous cars are nearly endless. Imagine if anyone and everyone could get around safely and efficiently, regardless of their ability to drive. Autonomous cars makes personal transportation possible for the blind, disabled, and elderly, among other disadvantaged groups.
Vehicle autonomy also greatly reduces human error as a risk factor on the roads, which could lead to an end in motor vehicle accidents. This technology also makes it possible for the public to regain their time spent in automobiles – rather than drive from Point A to Point B, autonomous cars would make it possible to be driven between one location and the next, allowing you to converse with friends or family, read a book, browse the Internet, or watch a film. Time spent in automobiles suddenly becomes leisure time, rather than a burden.
If we accept that self-driving and autonomous cars have the potential to drive better than we ourselves do, then it’s clear the benefits they could provide. Nearly all auto accidents are caused by human error; remove the human element, and suddenly you eliminate drunken drivers, road rage, poor judgement, and other factors that lead to needless and preventable accidents. And autonomy brings the personal automobile to all new demographics and groups of people who currently are unable to drive a car. The benefits are plainly evident.