Self-Driving Cars and the Future of Autonomous Driving
In 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held its first ever Grand Challenge, offering $1 million to anyone who could build an autonomous vehicle able to navigate 142 miles through the Mojave Desert. Of the fifteen competitors, the most successful entry made it less than eight miles before bursting into flames.
Despite ambitious attempts, the prospect of self-driving cars cruising around the streets of a major city still seemed like science fiction at the time. Cut to 14 years later, and smart cities filled with autonomous vehicles taking us from place to place seem not only likely, but are now considered an inevitability.
So how close are we to that reality? Although there’s great optimism in the air and some serious experimentation going on, some significant hurdles still stand in the way of a driverless commute to work.
Like most fresh innovations, the gap between making this new technology available and making it affordable is still quite vast. The cameras, sensors, and complex computing systems needed to get you safely from point A to point B are currently very expensive. Maintenance and software support only add to the complexity of how these new additions to the market will end up being priced.
With ongoing software and security updates needed for the lifetime of the car’s usage, manufacturers will have to move to a more involved service model in order to provide constant support and give consumers faith that their product will always be up-to-date.
As inevitable as driverless cars seem, the issue of liability is another roadblock that may delay the takeover. The issue has recently been thrust to the forefront as several accidents have sparked a debate about who pays when things go wrong. In fact, GM recently became the first company to be sued in a lawsuit involving a driverless vehicle.
Before these vehicles start dominating the roads, the question of who’s at fault when problems arise will have to be ironed out, so all parties are sure they’re covered in the case of catastrophe.
The news has showcased several scary stories recently involving vehicles from Tesla, Uber, and GM crashing while using autonomous features—and this has no doubt put a damper on the excitement brewing around this technological breakthrough. With the technology still not up to snuff, the final hurdle may be convincing a skeptical and nervous public to give up control of the driving wheel.
The most likely path forward is paved in baby steps, with cars slowly but surely implementing more smart features—like autopilot and automatic parking—that gradually lead us toward a driverless future. As they push forward, social norms will change, the technology will grow, and possibly over the next decade or so the idea of floating through the streets in your self-driving car will become as second nature as taking the wheel yourself.
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