Now that the reality of self-driving cars is upon us and lurking at the door of commercial transport, who exactly (or what) is pushing the demand to get them onto the open road? The reality is that the new vision of mobility could be decades away, and some big players have started the game without knowing all the rules.
Trusting Autonomous Vehicles an Issue
For anyone who takes to the road, trust and safety are top concerns. Driving is a constant dance between the truck’s systems, the environment in which it’s moving, and the humans in the cars and trucks sharing the road. It’s a complex set of variables that change each time you get behind the wheel, and trust in your own instincts and in the abilities of fellow road warriors is critical. But research by Strategic Business Insights found only 15 percent of American adults would want to ride in a driverless car.
Though advanced safety features like forward collision avoidance and lane keeping are already standard in some newer model cars, full autonomy is another level. Humans are still the most sophisticated technology in the cab, especially when grappling with the environment.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is keeping a close eye on developments and tests to evaluate if or when “innovation will run up against regulations.” Fewer crashes caused by human error, saved time, and less pollution are all lofty promises, but concerns surround the 20- to 30-year period when autonomous and human-operated cars mix on our roadways.
Technology Awaits Better Understanding
of the Human-Machine-Environment Interaction
While NHTSA deftly drafts its rulebook around autonomous vehicles, the technologies are developing out of necessity. Learning how to manage programmed driving in ever-changing environments is just one of the pieces of the technology puzzle still needing an answer. And while key tech players are firmly in the driver’s seat, selling the final product direct to consumers doesn’t seem to be the immediate target.
Google continues to test and improve its self-driving car prototypes, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is calling dibs on half a million Tesla electric self-driving cars slated for production by 2020. Uber’s angle? A reduction of taxis on New York City streets. On-demand car sharing paves the way for the on-demand futures of commercial trucking, deliveries, and public transit.
Tesla is competing with Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, and others to get vehicles on the road, but analyzing risk remains the constant obstacle all are up against.
Risk before rides
A recent article for TechCrunch highlights the need for a new risk-monitoring standard — one that moves away from measuring risk based on driver demographics, and instead toward a driving-analytics benchmark that is more behavioral. With the driver out of the picture, the risk falls on how a driverless car will respond.
Safety, trust, and regulatory requirements will come in due time, but the objectives are not aimed to please the commuter first. Instead, they’re to satisfy the demand to move people and products from Point A to Point B efficiently and economically.
There’s plenty of time, decades even, to build drivers’ trust. For now, regular drivers will stick with parallel-park assist and blind-spot warning lights. All timelines considered, innovation in self-driving technologies may end up building autonomous cars one smart part at a time.