Cars have been in our lives for more than a century and as technology evolves it is natural to embed these advancements. At first they were focused only in making cars faster, more comfortable, more reliable and visually appealing. None of these improvements ever touched in the primordial component of a motor vehicle: the human between the wheel and the seat. However, as electronics evolved and computers are getting more powerful than ever, there have been several approaches to change how we drive our cars – or by using technology to help a driver on some tasks or an even more “radical” step which is completely removing the driver role and letting computers take control of the vehicle. Both approaches have their pros and cons and also big industry players on each side. Automakers as GM, Volkswagen and Tesla are implementing automated functions step by step while Google already has an autonomous vehicle and several units have been driving around California for a while now.
Automakers focus mainly on using technology to improve safety with systems like one that automatically breaks a car when sensors detect imminent crashes, or for maintaining a safe distance behind another vehicle, cruise control and auto-parking. Google, on the other hand, focus on fully autonomous vehicles that don’t need human intervention at all. There are clear advantages of a self-driving car. A person can lose a significant amount of time while driving from home to work and the way around, especially if you get stuck in traffic. This extra time could be used for reading and replying emails or even for relaxing instead of being angry with the road. On the safety side, the main reason for car accidents is human error and removing the human from the wheel has the potential to greatly reduce crashes.
Aside from the comfort advantages of having a car adjusting your speed and parking for you by itself, for a partially automated car there would be moments where the driver would have to take control of the steering wheel. However, since they would probably be doing something else than looking at the road like replying an email, the amount of time needed for a response is dangerously high, as it can take as long as 17 seconds, according a study just released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and supported by Google and several leading automakers and suppliers. Driverless cars could offer more advantages but only if every car in a system were automated because there will always be the human factor even on that. Recently, we had a clear example of this issue, as Google’s automated cars have been involved in some minor accidents and all of them were caused by human error on the other vehicles.
Google says it’s technology will be ready to hit the roads by 2020 and Tesla is already testing its autopilot feature with some drivers. It’s inevitable that, at some point, we will have autonomous vehicles. However, it is to be seen if Google will succeed in pushing this move so fast, as there are so many aspects that need to be taken in account, especially on the regulatory side.