You’ve probably seen a Google car on the road, taking pictures of the landscape to update the Google Maps application. You might have been shocked to see that some of these vehicles don’t have a driver. That’s because Google is already using the technology of autonomous vehicles as part of their Google Maps initiative.
But it’s not just Google that has latched onto this technology. Ford, Tesla, Volkswagen Group, General Motors, Renault-Nissan Alliance, Daimler, BMW, and other major car companies are racing to develop self-driving cars that will be 100 percent road ready.
According to Business Insider, Ford, which has partnered with Lyft to engineer their self-driving technology, is expected to be the first to roll out their fleet of driverless cars for ride-hailing with GM close behind.
Making Roadways Safer with Machine Learning
GM’s CEO Mary Barra said that the technology is in hand, but they’re focused on building up the driving experience for their vehicles before they can release them to the general public.
“A lot of the conversation has been about, ‘Oh, we have this many miles,’ but it’s not as much about the miles as it is about the experiences that the car learns,” Barra told Business Insider.
Once the vehicle has gained that experience, GM and other leading driverless vehicle manufacturers are confident that their vehicles will not only be road ready, but also be the safest form of vehicles yet. As they spend more time on the road, these vehicles will “learn” how to anticipate problems and work around human error.
In fact, because of the incredible machine-learning technology, a McKinsey & Company study declares that self-driving vehicles will decrease roadway accidents by 90 percent. To put that into perspective, we’re looking at more than 300,000 fewer fatalities in a decade and more than 1.5 million lives saved over the course of half a century.
Autonomous vehicles would be considered 100 percent safer if we could take human error out of the equation, but since there are more than seven billion of us on the planet, that’s not likely to happen.
Imagining A World Dominated by Self-Driving Cars
Motor-vehicle accidents are common causes of injuries, and the fatalities are a growing concern. According to a study on the efficacy of self-driving vehicles, this will make a huge difference in raising life expectancies and reducing hospital bills around the world.
“Today, car crashes have an enormous impact on the US economy,” wrote Michele Bertoncello and Dominik Wee in a paper for the consulting firm, McKinsey & Company. “For every person killed in a motor-vehicle accident, 8 are hospitalized, and 100 are treated and released from emergency rooms. The overall annual cost of roadway crashes to the US economy was $212 billion in 2012. Taking that year as an example, advanced ADAS and AVs reducing accidents by up to 90 percent would have potentially saved about $190 billion.“
Although people are often uncomfortable with the concept of robotic machines dictating our travel plans, you can’t deny the incredible possibilities.
“By midcentury, the penetration of [autonomous vehicles] and other [advanced driver-assistance systems] could ultimately cause vehicle crashes in the United States to fall from second to ninth place in terms of their lethality ranking among accident types,” the McKinsey paper continues.
Obstacles to Self-Driving Vehicles
Unfortunately, it might be a few more decades before this life-saving technology becomes a permanent fixture. Although the technology is mostly ready to go, there are some obstacles in the way, the largest being human skepticism.
A survey polled 505 drivers who shared their opinions about self-driving vehicles. Overall, the response was pretty negative, “with the largest segment of respondents indicating they’d prefer to retain full control over their vehicles, thank you very much.” That being said, about 40 percent of respondents said they would be okay with partial self-driving capabilities, showing that we’re slowly warming up to the technology.
Andrew More, computer science dean at Carnegie Mellon summed up the hesitancy surrounding self-driving vehicles relatively plainly in an interview with Adrienne LaFrance of The Atlantic. “No one is going to want to realize autonomous driving into the world until there’s proof that it’s much safer, like a factor of 100 safer, than having a human drive,” he said.
Eliminating accidents is nearly impossible, so it’s unrealistic to have this expectation. For that reason, we are at a standstill while we wait for the technology to emerge in stages. As consumers become more used to the idea, they’re more likely to accept it as the new norm, as is the case with many emerging technologies.
Safer roadways are just around the corner!