The next decade will likely see a rise in driverless vehicles on our roads. The technology for self-driving cars is becoming more advanced, and questions about their effect on the future of driving are growing.
At present, six out of 10 American drivers seek at least one autonomous-driving technology in their next car — think familiar features like cruise control, first introduced in 1950, and automatic parking, first introduced in 2003.
Fully autonomous vehicles, which combine lasers, sensors, cameras and digital maps to track objects surrounding them, are still in the piloting phase. But they are currently being developed by at least 10 companies, including car makers like Volkswagen and technology giants like Google. Driverless cars are likely to become part of the mainstream by 2030 — and the primary mode of transportation in the U.S. by 2050.
On the plus side, driverless cars will remove the potential for human error, as well as negligence such as drunk or distracted driving. Once they become the norm, accidents are expected to fall by 90 percent. The software driving the cars will be able to operate the vehicle at maximum efficiency, leading to an expected 60 percent reduction in emissions. The technological tools at work, such as digital maps, are expected to reduce traffic congestion. And driverless cars can be parked in 15 percent less space — they don’t need to leave room for a human driver to get in and out.
Yet, there are numerous challenges as well. Just one out of five Americans is comfortable with the idea of trusting their lives to a machine. There have been instances of sensors malfunctioning in rainy or snowy conditions. In a pilot program in California, the Google car suffered one “incident” about every 1,250 miles; the number from some of the other manufacturers was far more grim. The cost is also a concern — Google’s driverless car is expected to come with a commercial price tag of around $150,000. And there are many unanswered questions, such as who is at fault in the event of an accident, and how the cars will function if digital maps are not up-to-date.
For a closer look at the landscape of driverless cars, check out this infographic developed by Ohio University’s Online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program.