A car with no driver used to be the stuff of science fiction. A cartoon or movie would feature a vehicle that required no human operation and we’d all chuckle at the crazy things that some writer had dreamed up.
But just as a lot of other impossibilities dropped the “im-” and became possibilities, driverless cars are approaching reality as we speak. The confluence of GPS navigation, obstruction detection, and faster computers to analyze it all have made it ever more likely that we’ll one day sit down in the driver’s seat and get whisked quickly to our destination, enjoying a book or the newspaper as we ride.
Of course, it’s not here yet. There are many obstacles that have to be overcome. But now that the industry truly understands that it’s possible, the process is underway. In order for it to continue its progress, it needs to meet several goals.
It is very expensive to develop a prototype of anything. The company is placing a huge amount of money into something that may never get off the ground, so in order for the process to get the green light and get underway, the budget must be as low as possible. Cutting costs in every feasible area is essential.
Identifying less expensive labor markets is a great first step. The profitability of auto manufacturers in Mexico has long established that worker costs are far lower there, so it stands to reason that a highly speculative venture like driverless cars can save money by operating in the most affordable labor markets as they develop prototypes and test them out.
Tweaking The Tech
Most people have a GPS horror story, an example of a time when their navigation system led them astray. Often it’s an error in the user’s settings, but there are still some incomplete areas in the navigation database. It may lag behind on construction of new roads or changes in orientation of one-way streets, and it will be unable to incorporate other factors like unplanned repairs or blockages for special events.
Consequently, the driverless car is at the mercy of the information fed to it about where it’s going and how it will get there. Upgrades in navigation data–which go on continuously–will gradually bring things into line and make the vehicles more feasible. But it’s not quite there yet.
Complying With The Law
Then there’s a rather big hurdle to clear: The legal status of a car with no one at the wheel. Obviously the law doesn’t currently explicitly say that someone must be driving, since the 100-plus years of automobile history in this country have never needed that qualification.
But the time is coming, and a wide array of issues will have to be addressed. Will a licensed human have to be in an autonomous vehicle? Will that person have the ability to override programmed operation? If so, would that person be legally liable for an accident if his or her intervention caused an accident?
There are a lot of things to take into consideration, and none of them is impossible to figure out. But right now, none of them has been figured out, so there is a lot of work ahead for state and federal lawmakers.
The advantages of a driverless car are endless. Better driving, an alternative for sleepy or impaired drivers, even the opportunity for someone to work while on the road. It’s inevitable that we’ll one day travel in this way, but right now we are in a development process with lots of questions to answer.