The Next Big Thing
Self-driving cars: So many reasons, so many hurdlesIt may be the biggest technological sea change since the Internet, one that reshapes how our average day unfolds, our personal safety, and the use of land resources.
-You know, a few things in technology right now inspire as much fascination, doubt, and personal indignation as self-driving cars. -Each perfectly eyed test would be correctly identified in the all-weather and lighting conditions. -I didn't drive anything. I was just sitting in the car. I'm amazed about how smooth and how simple it looks even though there is a lot of technology behind the car. So, I'm very encouraged. -New, more precise cameras will ensure the lane-keeping aid functions perfectly. -This increases comfort as well as safety. Of course, the driver can regain control over the vehicle at any point. However, particularly in situations like this, you will increasingly wonder why you should. -We're gonna get there even sooner than we think. -Okay. The reasons for self-driving cars, these largely cluster around greater good. For example, fewer accidents. Computers don't get bored. They don't drink. They know the rules of the road. They don't get distracted by that smartphone on the seat next to them. That could really eat away at the 93 percent or so of the 6 million annual wrecks in this country that are caused by human screw-up. Then there's better road utilization. Let's face it. Humans are pretty lousy at driving precisely, keeping their cars in a very even gap and a close gap. Just look at this video from an experiment recently where the drivers were asked to follow each other with an even tight gap between their cars and not really. Now, computers at the wheel can maintain tight gaps with low elasticity as they move back and forth in conditions. That means more cars on existing roadway with great safety. Better fuel utilization. Computers can be programmed to operate the accelerator and brake in a way that preserves kinetic energy rather than dumping fuel in the cylinders at one moment only to convert that speed into brake dust and heat the next. Edmunds estimates that even current cruise control can save some 14 percent of fuel when implemented. Greater productivity. Average American right now spends something like 200 hours a year babysitting a dumb machine going from home to work and back again. Think what you could get done either personally or in your work if you had that time back at those times. Now, the arguments I most often hear against self-driving cars often accompanied by a red face go along these lines. First, I like to drive. So do I, believe me, but I don't like my commute. I don't like minding a machine on routine journeys back and forth. On the weekend, you can switch your autonomous car to manual. I don't trust computers. This one is understandable. After all, we're basically talking about putting the same technology into cars that gave us the Blue Screen of Death, the Sad Mac, and five bars but no connection. However, I take quite a bit of hope in the commercial airline industry as an example of how we can get five 9's of reliability in a critical transportation mode. Related to that one is when computers fail, they fail spectacularly. Humans tend to pick up on things before they get out of hand, but I have to believe that software development, infrastructure, and redundant systems can solve this one. Then there's the concern that this stuff is gonna make cars cost a fortune. Well, a lot of the building blocks are in cars affordably today. Look at adaptive cruise control, self-parking, lane-drift prevention, blind spot warning tech. Take those existing technologies, give them another million lines of code or so and permission to do their thing and we might have a very safe system that's affordable already. Here are some milestones that you should watch with me to see how self-driving cars progress. First of all, those building technologies I just mentioned. Look for them to become almost ubiquitous in cars of every price class. Then look for regulatory acceptance the way California and Nevada have recently put laws on the books saying it's okay to have an autonomous car in public roads as long as a human can catch it if it screws up. Car maker leadership, not just salesmanship. Companies like Nissan, Mercedes, General Motors, among those who said self-driving cars will start to really arrive as soon as 2020, there will be hiccups and problems on the road. The key is to handle those with a public dialogue and education. Then there's generational change. Successive generations will probably see self-driving as less of a threat, as less subtractive for their lifestyle than previous generations. And finally Google. Few tech companies have the ability to create behavioral change on a global scale as Google does and has. Bottom line is this is a win, not an if. Get ready for at least a partially autonomous car in your foreseeable future.