Autonomous Vehicles Are No Longer a Matter of “If” but “When”
Humankind is prone to chasing dreams – and currently, one of the most sought-after ones is having autonomous vehicles hit the public roads.
In an ideal scenario, this should improve many areas of public transportation, while also granting more autonomy to impaired people and lessen the impact of carbon emissions.
And while the likes of Uber, Tesla or Google have already been testing driverless cars on public roads for a while, there’s still a long way to go until the average Joe will be able to give up on the classic means of transportation and rely on random driverless vehicles to perform daily duties.
However, the important aspect here is that, in what concerns fully-automated cars, we’re already seeing a switch from ‘if’ to ‘when’. To understand where the trend is going, I’ve comprised a few thoughts inside this article.
Autonomous Vehicles and Legislation Challenges
Our cities have not been designed to accommodate self-driving cars roaming around. Neither do transportation policies and public administration protocols.
That’s why legislation has to play a bit of catch-up after the technology is fully developed. That said, here are the most encountered issues in regards to legislation:
- Over-regulating an ‘infant’ market
- Lawmakers are still waiting for self-driving big players to develop self-regulation first
- The law has to clearly state a definition of what ‘driver’ means. In case of malfunction or less clear occurrences, a court needs to know where to charge responsibility
- Carjacking regulations are harder to delineate until the cybersecurity technology is 100% tested.
Top Automakers’ Predictions – When Could the ‘When’ Occur
All carmakers’ efforts are put into hastening the process of launching self-driving vehicles commercially. After all, their main interest is to start making money off of their humongous investments.
But how exactly are the big players planning to address driverless tech growth? I suggest we have a look at the roadmaps some of them propose.
1. General Motors
In their ambition to become “the first high-volume auto manufacturer to build fully autonomous vehicles in a mass-production assembly plant”, GM is currently striving to challenge Uber and Lyft’s services by developing its own Ride-sharing division called Maven.
Although there is no official timeline for GM, their next step seems to be the deployment of test fleets in 2018, in what appears to be the largest test effort by any other carmaker so far.
The massive investment in robotics company Argo AI at the beginning of the year is a clear sign Ford is committed to their plan of having a fully automated vehicle build by 2021.
Mark Fields, Ford’s CEO, claims Ford is striving to reach Level 4 automation in its self-driving vehicles. This means no pedal, no steering wheel and no passenger control within predefined areas.
Pushing the envelope as usual, Tesla seems to be ahead of the game if we were to stick by Elon Musk’s ambitions of having a car drive completely on enhanced autopilot from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017.
As daring as this claim was, it appears that the company is still trying to perfect its Enhanced Autopilot feature, which justifies the lack of updates during the last months.
As Uber’s provider, Volvo has already taken important steps like accepting full liability for any prospective incident on the road.
Liabilities aside, they are building towards a fully independent car to hit the highways in 2021 and also towards premium vehicles at costs within the $10,000 range.
Overall, the consensus seems to favor the 2020’s as the time to expect autonomous cars on the roads and the 2030’s as the time driverless rides will hit the highways.
As expected, the forecast for vehicles’ integration within the urban infrastructure is not so optimistic since we cannot predict the pace legislation will manage to be completed at.
Are We Ready to Welcome the Change?
Many drivers claim they find it comforting to sit at the steering wheel and feel the vehicle respond to their commands.
So, the question arises: Are we really ready to accept the loss of control?
In a study on Psychological roadblocks to the adoption of self-driving vehicles, researchers Azim Shariff, Jean-Francois Bonnefon, and Iyad Rahwan suggest that individual users will have to overcome a suite of mental models in order to fully be comfortable onboard a self-piloted vehicle.
Until we figure out our biases, carmakers are sure betting their all on autonomous vehicles, in a race towards being at the forefront of a massive switch in the way people approach mobility.