Driverless vehicles are here | December 2017

The question is how quickly they become mainstream

Milton Keynes is a UK town where many streets are reserved for pedestrians and bicycles. That made it suitable to test driverless cars, one of the great possibilities tied to the rise of artificial intelligence.

Such testing is happening the world over. The promise of driverless vehicles is safer, faster, cheaper and more comfortable travel. Driverless proponents push the safety aspects the most because human error causes most of the world’s 1.25 million road deaths a year.

Despite technological advances, driverless cars are some way from meeting the expectations of their biggest advocates. The largest obstacles include safety, legal and insurance liabilities, cybersecurity risks and making roads suitable. Above all this sits the unanswerable question of whether or not the public will feel safe being propelled at great speed by software.

Enough people will surely be willing. Driverless vehicles are coming in some form. It might be years, however, before robo-vehicles appear in enough numbers to challenge the road share of the world’s 1 billion conventional cars and trucks.

The concept of how driverless cars work is straightforward; they use wireless technology to see the road ahead and move there safely.

Autonomous driving promises more fluid and safe travel and could lower travelling costs. Such a saving would trigger a major shift in consumer-spending patterns, while upending industries such as auto sales, car repairs, car servicing, motels, truck haulage and fast-food outlets that rely on drive-throughs. Others will be created as people will want to make use of their time.

While the possibilities that automated vehicles herald are great, so too are the challenges. The infrastructure needed is expensive. Much pre-mapping needs to be done. Glitches that could immobilise robocars or annoy users need to be eradicated.

A big hurdle for the driverless industry is getting laws changed to allow robocars on public roads. Lawmakers will have to decide whether or not to allow a vehicle to have no potential driver.

Dealing with collisions will prove tricky because it might be hard to judge who might be at fault, especially if two driverless cars crash. Lawmakers need to understand what ethical decisions coders have pre-programmed – the software is likely to favour the safety of a car’s passengers over others.

To promote the driverless industry, advocates are pushing the greatest promise of autonomous cars; fewer accidents, fewer deaths and fewer injuries.

While the road death toll is too high, looked at another way – by deaths per million vehicle kilometres driven – perhaps, cars don’t look as lethal. In Australia in 2014, there were 0.48 deaths per million vehicle kilometres travelled. Those pushing driverless cars must show they can lower this ratio.

Ultimately, the public must be willing to ride in driverless vehicles. Surveys suggest the public are wary. Other pivotal issues will be their affordability and how easy they are to operate. Those testing automated vehicles have much to solve.

Article provided by Magellan. 

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