Buckle up! Elon Musk is announcing he will roll out 1 million robot-taxis by next year. He has also claimed Tesla owners will be able to profit on average $30k a year just by lending their car to the robot-taxi fleet. Tech companies such as Apple and Google are heavily involved in developing driverless cars, as well as major car manufacturers such as BMW, Nissan, and Ford.
With driverless cars already on the road in some areas, it’s high time to take a look at the current challenges facing this developing industry — and what we can predict for driverless cars in the near future.
Driverless cars are undeniably a difficult product to sell to the general public, mostly due to safety concerns. Currently, about 7 in 10 Americans are afraid of autonomous cars. There have been some accidents involving driverless cars; even though, of the 38 incidents involving self-driving cars in the US, only six were caused by the technology itself, sceptics are unconvinced. The irony of this impasse: driverless cars may be what we need to ultimately decrease road accidents, as they eliminate the human error that is at the heart of most accidents.
Another safety concern: the cars’ communication networks and security. Autonomous cars are operated and controlled by computers, and all computers can be hacked. The driverless car hacking scene in Fate of the Furious is not so far from reality. Researchers at Georgia Tech have found that if (and when) all cars operate driverless systems, you would only have to hack a cluster of 10-20% of them at rush hour in a city like New York in order to completely disrupt traffic flow and make half of the city inaccessible.
Hacking experts Charlie Miller and Charlie Valasek managed to disable break systems and command the steering system remotely as part of an experiment to expose the flaws of driverless vehicles. It goes without saying that cybersecurity is a real threat, and could put the occupants of driverless cars at real risk of deadly injuries.
While safety concerns like these are at the forefront of the news, they are certainly not the only obstacles the industry needs to overcome. Cost may also be a serious challenge; the technology used in driverless cars is unsurprisingly more expensive than regular cars, which makes them more it difficult for the average consumer to afford.
All the same, cities around the world are preparing for the transition, even if driverless cars are not yet allowed everywhere. The UK, for example, announced that they will be ready to have self-driving vehicles on UK roads by 2021. As with any new technology, adequate regulations for autonomous vehicles are crucial for the product’s success, minimising the risks associated with road accidents by ensuring every self-driving vehicle is fit for use, appropriately registered, and regularly checked and updated.
For skeptics of driverless cars, the harsh reality is this: a fundamental shift in the auto industry is coming, whether you like it or not. Even though the technology is still facing some challenges, car manufacturers are getting the cars ready for manufacture, governments are preparing regulations to minimise these challenges, and the general public is (slowly) getting used to the idea. Expect to see a surge of driverless cars within the next few years, and with it fewer road accidents and easier access to transport.