Google’s project for self-driving cars has been slowly coming together as some of their prototypes are already being tested on some cities. Still, other companies have been researching for technology needed to make this happen. According to Larry Burns, a former GM executive and current consultant on Google’s project for self-driving cars GM has been working on this type of automobiles for over a decade and more recently, Tesla and Uber have been investing some money in related technology. He acknowledges that Google cars could be available as early as 2018 since the technology has been tested since 2012, but there are a few issues with the way the technology is implemented.
The main reason for such investments is to make roads safer, as currently 1.2 million people die every year worldwide and 90% of the causes of the accident are related to human negligence. Besides potentially saving a lot of lives, autonomous cars bring additional benefits like saving some money and travelling time. Current cars depend heavily on gasoline derived from oil and even as the oil production increases, it would be good to rely on more than just one source of energy, in this case, electricity. The passengers of these cars could focus on all sorts of things while being transported like reading a book, playing with their kids or using some of their devices.
There are some concerns regarding these type of vehicles, particularly the liability. There’s the issue of which cars would be allowed on the roads and their purpose. More importantly, laws usually hold the driver of a vehicle responsible for damages caused to another one. This will be a problem for cars where there are no drivers involved. Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog highlighted “Robots, by engineer standards, are never wrong …”, which is a scary thought when you think about it. Most transit laws would probably have to be modified or rewritten. Still, from the 11 accidents involving one of Google’s vehicles, almost all of them had to do with another car hitting one of the prototypes and the Google car that hit another vehicle was being driven by a human driver. But that doesn’t mean that the technology will be perfect every time. The most challenging part according to Burns is to “teach cars how humans drive”.