Self driving cars are by no means a new phenomenon, but over the past few months, they’ve been back on the radar. Silicon Valley experts have predicted that by 2022, the first fully automated vehicles will be rolling up our driveways, despite the first whispers coming from General Motors back in 1939.
Internet search giant Google has been at the forefront of the recent developments, with the invention of a new software, Google Chauffeur. The project is being managed by a high profile team of engineers, with Sebastian Thrun heading up proceedings – a former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and the brains behind Google Street View. The latest prototype of the driverless car has no steering wheel and no pedals, taking away full control from the human driver and relying on advanced technology. But how far are we from seeing these cars on our roads? And what challenges are ahead?
Technology aside, the behaviour of consumers is going to play a big role on the success of self driving cars. At the moment, drivers are understandably wary of the safety aspect of being essentially out of control of their own vehicles, and this is an important point that manufacturers will have to address. It’s a whole new way of thinking for consumers to come round to, and these shifts don’t happen overnight.
That said, industry experts have argued that when it comes to dealing with split-second decisions on the roads, humans aren’t always as well equipped as we’d like to think. Still though, it could take decades for people to come round to the idea, and even if they do become convinced of the safety, there’s the question of whether drivers will be happy to pay the premium that will come with the technology. There’s been much speculation around how much Google’s self driving car will cost, but the technology systems are thought to b
e worth in excess of several hundred thousand pounds per vehicle – meaning that an average car would cost several times more than the current price of a luxury high-end sports car.
It’s expected that early-adopters will be on the forecourt handing over their cash as soon as the cars are released, but that’s the case with any new form of technology. How long it will take for self driving cars to be a staple remains to be seen, but it’s going to be years rather than months. And once the cars are actually on the roads, how that will work in practice has another big question mark over it. Some have predicted complete gridlock whilst the technology tries to grapple with the sheer scale of cars in condensed areas.
Another issue is insurance and accident liability. There have been no firm answers yet in these areas, but the questions are quite obvious. Who will be to blame, in the eyes of the law, if an accident happens? How it will impact the way we take out insurance policies? Will owners of driverless cars expect to pay more, or less, for their cover? Indeed, could it ever be the case in the future that the insurance industry is rendered obsolete, as self driving cars minimise accidents and change the way we view driving?
There are more questions than answers in just about every area when it comes to driverless cars, but the debate will certainly be interesting over the coming months and years.
What do you think about driverless cars? Are you keen to see them being made available to consumers, or do you have concerns?