Driverless cars in our lifetime? Don’t hold your breath


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Take a second and Google the cities with the worst traffic. Search for images of typical traffic jams in cities from New York to Rio de Janeiro, or from Istanbul to Manila.

Notice how taxis and public-transportation vehicles play a big role in those traffic snarls? There’s a lot of yellow in that New York City image, isn’t there?

Now picture a robotic driverless vehicle navigating through any of those traffic messes.

And picture yourself in the back seat. You’re entrusting invisible technology with your safety and peace of mind. Feel safe? Think you’ll get to your destination in time? Think you’ll make it at all?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predicts that driverless vehicles will make up 75 percent of cars on the road by 2040. Can the technology advance enough to support autonomous vehicles capable of navigating city traffic?

Just look at how many recalls major automakers make every month. Fiat Chrysler in May, for example, recalled 1.2 million Dodge Ram pickup trucks over faulty software that controls airbags. According to The New York Times on May 13: “The recall comes after a spate of other continuing safety issues at the company.”

Also in May, BMW recalled more than 45,000 7-series sedans because the doors could open while driving. In the same week, Ford recalled some 2017 models of its Ford Explorer for potential problems with manual car seats posing safety risks in case of an accident.

These same companies are going to produce robotic vehicles?

Avoid buying hook, line and sinker what you’re hearing from automakers and their tech and startup partners. The road ahead for driverless vehicles will be marked by significant fits and starts.

And, as we have forecast, a concentration on investment and research in autonomous vehicles in commercial trucking and public-transportation arenas, will become more prominent and build momentum.

For example, there’s the nasty legal battle between Uber, which owns no vehicles, and Waymo, Google’s driverless-car operation.

In the most recent development, San Francisco District Judge William Alsup ruled Uber can continue its research into developing self-driving auto technology. However, Alsup ruled, Uber is blocked for now from using data that a former Waymo engineer took with him when he joined Uber.

That engineer, Anthony Levandowski, was developing laser technology that enables driverless vehicles to observe and respond to surroundings around them.

The suit and the players investing in this technology underscore the intensifying race to advance autonomous vehicle technology beyond the traditional automaker industry.

Moreover, it demonstrates how the driverless-vehicle trend is evolving. The next target is the robotic taxi market.

TRENDPOST: Autonomous vehicles specifically engineered to move people or cargo will develop faster than other types of driverless vehicles. The essential quest in this research is clear. They’re searching for technology that gives self-driving vehicles a more reliable “eye” to locate and respond to things around them. That means the investment and research will come from not only the auto industry, but a growing number of diverse tech companies. 

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