There is a growing killer on our streets, killing more Americans each year than cancer or gun violence.
Every year 33,000 Americans die in automobile accidents. Around the world that number ramps up to 1.2 million. Human error causes over 90% of those accidents.
Computer-run autonomous vehicles have the potential to make the world a better, safer place. With complex algorithms the machine can drive defensively, responding to endless roadway obstacles. Driverless cars are smooth and courteous. Unlike human drivers, self-driven cars never get distracted.
With the computer science at work, it’s a matter of algorithms. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to completely eliminate human error for significantly increased road safety.
Google’s self-driving car project Waymo has taken the lead in race to develop self-driving software. By the end of 2016 their cars completed nearly 636,000 miles on public roads. Waymo tests in complex urban and suburban areas where they learn to navigate with children, cyclists and confusing traffic infrastructures. All through California, Waymo, General Motors, Tesla, BMW and other tech companies are also testing and developing their own self-driving technologies.
With the combined efforts and intense competition, 10 million self-driving cars are expected to be on the road by 2020.
TECH LEADER VISIONS FOR SELF-DRIVING TECHNOLOGIES
Finishing off last year, Google announced a change in direction for its self-driving project. They’re going to focus more narrowly on the technology element versus entire vehicle production. They won’t be building cars anymore. Instead, the will pair with various automakers to improve and add to more conventional cars. Perhaps this will allow them to speed along even faster in the race. Leading the self-driving race, Google’s decisions send ripple effects throughout the industry.
Before self-driving vehicles have real hopes of becoming mainstream, engineers will need to iron out multiple issues. Things like the pending weather conditions, varying traffic laws, confusing construction signs, and unending potential road obstacle are holding them back. While logging in test hours Waymo once encountered an elderly woman driving an electric wheelchair who was chasing ducks around in circles through the street. According to Chris Urmson, former director of Google’s self-driving car unit, there are a great many algorithms to be designed for such bizarre scenarios. He left Google after more than seven years on the self-driving project.
Some companies don’t believe it’s a possibility for the automobiles to ever operate without some type of human assistance. Nissan’s Silicon Valley research head Maarten Sierhuis explained their human-angle on self-driving cars. While, they plan to move forward with the technology, the vision includes having flesh and blood humans at a center “guiding” these cars when confusing situations arise. Sierhuis believes we will always need humans in the loop when it comes to transportation.
CURRENT TRANSPORTATION ISSUES, THE NEED FOR DEVELOPMENT
Regardless of what’s happening and how fast it’s happening, it’s clear that urban mobility needs improvement. Most American cities began blossoming in the 1950s, when cars were already the primary mode of transportation. Naturally the cities developed to accommodate many vehicles.
For many cities this natural development has led to the disaster known as “suburban sprawl.” The streets are wide, and cars become essential for nearly every errand.
All that suburban sprawling has led to some serious road time. The average American commuter will spend 42 hours stuck in traffic each year. All of this congestion leads to poor physical and mental states. As our cities and roads have widened, so have American waistlines. On top of that, our vehicles add so many issues to our daily lives. That’s all outside of accidents. From air pollution and wasted time to sucking your income and making you fat, our current transportation is far less than ideal.
DECADES OF DREAMING ABOUT HIGHWAYS OF THE FUTURE
Over 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road in fewer than five years… or at least that’s what they say. Since automobiles became mainstream in the early 20th century, futurists have been dreaming of highly advanced transportation.
Back in 1939, one renowned industrialist proudly displayed a startling exhibit, “Futurama” at the World’s Fair. Norman Bel Geddes imagined an automated highway where no stop lights or traffic jams would exist. He called it a “Magic Motorway.” Within the already massive exhibit building, his display had prominence.
The motorway would link cities of the future. Expressways would be utilized to link cities and surrounding communities. With a proposed automated highway system, cars would move autonomously. Passengers would arrive at their destinations safely and expressly.
Representing General Motors at the time, Geddes had designed an enormous scale model of a utopian city for the fresh age of the automobiles. Over five million people scrambled over to get a glimpse of the world of tomorrow. Each visitor was enticed with the phrase, “Come tour the future with General Motors!”
All this to say, people have been dreaming about improved transportation for many decades. The self-driving race gets faster and faster, and each company wants to be first. News stories are full of confident press statements about grand visions and nearing completions. But what’s actually going on?
With the brilliant engineers of Waymo, GM, Tesla, Delphi, Ford, Mercedes and Nissan on board, we’ll continue to make progress towards safer transportation. But will all those obstacles get ironed out in the next two to three years? Only time will tell.