By 2050, almost every car will be driverless, according to IHS' latest study “Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Cars—Not If, But When”. By 2035, IHS Automotive forecasts there should already be nearly 54 million self-driving cars (SDCs) in use globally (http://press.ihs.com/press-release/automotive/self-driving-cars-moving-industrys-drivers-seat) So, should we be excited about driverless technology? What are the benefits and risks?
The concept is not new. Driverless systems have been developed since the 1920s. But the technology has come a long way: Last week Audi and BMW unveiled their latest driverless car technology at the Consumer Electronics Show and I have to say, while the technology still needs some work (check this CNN video http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/09/tech/innovation/self-driving-cars-ces/), the potential is, in my view, totally awesome!
The benefits: Not only do will we all get to play Knight Rider, accident rates are expected to plunge to near zero as the share of SDCs grows. Traffic congestion and air pollution per car should also decline because SDCs can be programmed to be more efficient in their driving patterns. Moreover, autonomous vehicles have the potential to provide increased mobility for the elderly, the disabled and the blind. Fully autonomous cars might also improve land use: Currently, about 31% of city business districts of 41 major US cities is dedicated to parking. Autonomous vehicles would be able to drop passengers off, and then drive themselves to remote, satellite parking lots. In fact, we may even see a drop in car ownership and a rise in ride-sharing!
However, there are challenges too. Some are technical (making the systems 100% reliable, shrinking the technology to the size of a glove box, protecting internet-connected systems against hacking...) but experts seem to agree that the biggest challenge standing in the way of making SDCs a reality on our roads is legislation. Various laws will need to be updated around the world.
And of course, insurance and liability are particular tricky. If a car driving itself gets into an accident that results in damages or injuries, who is responsible? The driver watching a movie on the car entertainment system, or the manufacturer that designed the car? A recent RAND study looks recommends the following policy considerations:
-- Policymakers should avoid passing regulations prematurely while the technology is still evolving.
-- Distracted-driving laws will need to be updated to incorporate autonomous vehicle technology.
-- Policymakers should clarify who will own the data generated by this technology and how it will be used, and address privacy concerns.
-- Regulations and liability rules should be designed by comparing the performance of autonomous vehicles to that of average human drivers and the long-term benefits of the technology should be incorporated into determinations of liability.
But once those are sorted out, RAND believes the benefits of self-driving cars -- from increased safety to increased fuel economy -- will outweigh the challenges, concludes Smart Planet http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/when-will-all-the-cars-be-driverless/
Do you agree? Are you, like I am, eager to test the technology? Or are you concerned? Share your thoughts as comments below.
Read the full RAND study here: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR443-1.html
Picture courtesy of Wikipedia: General Motors exhibit at Century 21 Exposition (World's Fair), Seattle, Washington, USA, 1962.