The era of the automobile began about 100 years ago in the US, and currently there are approximately 250 million passenger vehicles in the country. While there have been many changes in terms of safety and efficiency in cars during that 100 years, the next change is going to dramatically change the landscape of our highways and cities.
This disruptive technology is the rapid development of the self-driving car. The current leader in this technology is Google, and here’s an interesting video that describes this fascinating technology:
Removing the driver from the driving equation creates a new world of freedom and changes to how we move ourselves from place to place. For instance, a self-driving car now opens up mobility options to those who are unable to drive now: the blind, the elderly, and the young. It may even revolutionize the concept of car ownership, as we may see fleets of self-driving cars that you can order online, show up at your doorstep, and drive you to your destination automatically.
A New Era of Safety
One of the most exciting aspects of self-driving cars is the enhanced safety of automated transport. Currently in the US, we spend about $870 billion a year on automobile collisions.
According the NHTSA, each year we see about 33,000 highway fatalities, 3.9 million injuries, and 24 damaged vehicles.
The vast majority of these crashes are due to human error that involve excessive speed, poor attention, poor reaction times, distraction, or drunken driving. According to Stanford Law School, 90% of auto collisions are due to human error. Self-driving cars offer a future with far fewer crashes, as we take humans out of the equation.
The question now is: how soon will the shift from human-driven to self-driving cars happen. Whenever you disrupt an industry (and especially one as entrenched as the American automobile), there’s going to be resistance. There are a huge number of issues that need to be resolved:
- Liability. If we’ve removed human error from the driver’s seat…who is responsible when there is a crash? No system is completely safe, of course, and we’re going to see crashes that are due to software and/or hardware problems. When these inevitably occur, how do we assess responsibility?
- The loss of control. The shift to self-driving cars is going to face a lot of resistance from some people. Many people like the feeling of control they have behind the wheel, and that’s going to be a powerful resistance to change.
- Economics. Not every person is able (or willing) to go out and buy a new car. Currently, the average age of a car on the road is 11 years, so it’s going to be a while before we reach a critical mass of self-driving cars on our daily commute.
- Federal regulations. The federal government isn’t known for being nimble, and so before we see self-driving cars at our local dealership, there’s going to be a lot study and research.
- Privacy. Some people are going to be hesitant to own a car that will track their every move and destination.
- Insurance. In 2012, State Farm Automobile Insurance reported $3.2 billion in profit. On one hand, insurance claims rates should drop precipitously with safer vehicles. It seems unlikely that the major insurance companies are going to excited about losing the cash cow of auto insurance!
Self-driving cars seem to be the future, but we’ll have to see what types of roadblocks and resistance we face during the transition.