Robo-Cars Are Coming, Say The Feds. Here’s What You Need To Know

Author

Michael J. Dunne

September 29, 2016

Are Americans ready for autonomous cars?

Our Department of Transportation says yes. The average guy on the street is not so sure.

Last week, Secretary Anthony Foxx at the Department of Transportation revealed guidelines for the speedy development of autonomous vehicles.

The new rules are meant to “create a path for a fully autonomous driver with different designs than what we have on the road today,” said Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration.

Future cars will look and behave differently. Cars are “already supercomputers on wheels,” German engineers from Audi told me recently. Soon, cars will be “robots that look like cars.”

Robots that look like cars –aren’t things moving a bit too fast?

Where regulators project sharp reductions in road deaths, Joe Average cringes at the potential for street chaos. (There were some 35,000 deaths from road accidents in 2015).

Where regulators marvel at the split-second reaction time of artificial intelligence, Jane Average shakes her head at at the “creepiness” of handing the steering wheel over to a robot.

Where regulators see millions of older and disabled folks freed from confinement at home, Joe and Jane wonder who will insure the autonomous cars and where they will park between trips.

“How will it all work?” a colleague asked me recently. “I mean what will happen when somebody in an old ’80s beater suddenly cuts off an autonomous car?”

Good question.

Here are a few other questions that came up in recent conversations with colleagues and friends about robo-cars and our future.

  1. What Is a “Fully Autonomous” Car? That’s when cameras, radar, lidar, powerful semi-conductors and software work together to operate a vehicle without any human involvement.
  1. How Soon Will We See Fully Autonomous Vehicles? Most experts say that they won’t take off until after 2025.
  1. What About Tesla and Uber?  Those are semi-autonomous cars. Tesla introduced AutoPilot at the end of 2015, a technology that allows highway driving. That means no feet on the pedals and no hands on the steering wheel on highways with clear lane markings only. Ride-hailing powerhouse Uber began testing autonomous drive taxis in Pittsburgh earlier this month. A driver accompanies the vehicles at all times.
  1. What About Trucks? Sooner than with cars, as early as 2020. Autonomous drive will allow transport companies to reduce expensive labor costs quickly and run their trucks much more efficiently. In August, Uber acquired Otto, a company that is now testing its autonomous drive technology in Volvo Trucks.  Look for buses and trucks on fixed routes to be the first to move to autonomous drive.
  1. How Much Will an Autonomous Car Cost? I paid $3,000 for the newest Auto Pliot feature to be added to my Model S. Costs for fully autonomous cars will be much higher, in the range of $7-10,000 per vehicle.
  1. How Does it Feel to Drive a Semi-Autonomous Vehicle? Google discovered through testing that humans go through a common experiential curve with autonomous cars. And I was no different. During the first few trips, there is a high level of concern, worry and skepticism. I kept my hands near the steering wheel and my foot hovering over the brake pedal at all times. But by the 5th or 6th, trip I was lulled into complacency, feeling that car’s technical capacity was boundless. That’s when drivers get into trouble, notes Google.
  1. Who Will be the First to Offer a Fully Autonomous Vehicle? Google has been the leader in research, with nearly 2 million road miles of real-world testing in California, Arizona, Washington and Texas. But Uber is mounting an aggressive challenge with its acquisition of Otto. Ford, GM, BMW and even China’s Baidu say they will have autonomous cars by around 2021.
  1. Won’t Autonomous Vehicles Be Vulnerable to Hacking? Cyber security is perhaps the single highest hurdle autonomous cars must clear. Imagine the terror generated by electronic hijacking of heavy-duty trucks going 80 mph on an Interstate highway. Jeep and Tesla have already been electronically infiltrated. Ofer Ben-Noon, CEO of Argus Cyber Security, warns that even the most sophisticated autonomous vehicles can be hacked. It is a risk that must be managed.
  1. Would You Recommend Buying an Autonomous Car ? It’s early. Autonomous vehicles still need to learn how to operate in rain and snow. Sometimes they miss stop signs or red lights. And no robot can duplicate the human skill of evasive driving. How might a robo-car respond, for example, to a carjacking in Detroit? On the other hand, I’d really recommend a test drive. You can’t help but feel amazed by how much these imperfect robots can already do.

Ready or not, autonomous cars are coming says, Secretary Foxx. One bonus for parents with kids under 5: You won’t have to worry about the stress and drama of a teenage driver’s license.

 

This article was written by Michael J. Dunne from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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