Autos: Self-driving tech, made for human drivers
How close are we, really, to sharing the road with driverless cars? asked Lawrence Ulrich in The New York Times. General Motors, Toyota, Ford, and Volkswagen “are all fully engaged in the self-driving race against the likes of Tesla, Uber,” and Google spinoff Waymo. If you choose to believe Tesla CEO Elon Musk, you might expect to be able to buy a car that is fully autonomous, requiring no supervision, by “sometime next year.” But “a growing consensus holds that driver-free transport will begin with a trickle, not a flood.” Think college-campus shuttles, inside boundaries “enforced by the electronic leash of geofencing.” There are still plenty of “barriers to the mass adoption of self-driving cars,” said April Glaser in Slate.com. Yes, in five or 10 years you might start seeing a handful of robots cruising down the road in a handful of cities. But how long until they’re everywhere? Try 30 to 50 years, says Chris Urmson, CEO of the self-driving tech company Aurora Innovation.
That hasn’t stopped states from moving forward with legislation meant to clear the roads for autonomous vehicles, said Taylor Garre in Cheddar.com. Hoping to encourage more companies to test their technology, Florida just became the third state to legalize self-driving cars “without a safety driver behind the wheel,” joining Michigan and Texas. There has also been a “dizzying array” of deals between automakers and tech companies forging autonomous vehicle alliances, said Joann Muller in Axios.com. The latest, between Waymo and Renault-Nissan, comes after Volkswagen agreed to a partnership with Ford, and Fiat Chrysler made a deal with Aurora. Others have made major investments—such as Ford’s $1 billion stake in Argo and Toyota’s $667 million cash infusion for Uber—with the goal of eventually commercializing their self-driving innovations.
An unforeseen twist in the race to build driverless technology is that it has actually made ordinary driving more enjoyable—and safer, said Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal. These days, often a new car—ranging from the Audi A8 to the Nissan Rogue—can effectively “take over when it thinks you’re making a mistake.” These new systems unite the best of the machine’s advanced sensing capabilities and instant reflexes “with the best of the human brain.” Already, automatic emergency braking has been found to reduce rear-end crashes by 50 percent. Lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection, and reverse automatic braking are just the beginning. It’s not clear the public has the appetite for the kinds of pricey and elaborate guidance systems that fully self-driving cars require. Much of the value in the technology may be in reducing “or even eliminating” deaths in cars driven by humans. ■