The Future of the Self Driving Car

by William Mattar | June 12th, 2017

A recent article in the Philadelphia Business Journal distills five takeaways from a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the future of self-driving cars:
• Human drivers only make self-driving cars less safe. According to a Google employee who is leading the technical development of its self-driving car technology, “[d]eveloping a car that can shoulder the entire burden of driving is crucial to safety.” According to the employee, according to testing, “[h]human drivers can’t always be trusted to dip in and out of the task of driving when the car is encouraging them to sit back and relax.”

• National standards need to avoid patchwork of state laws. The Google employee also explained that 23 states have introduced 53 bills, many of which “include different approaches and concepts,” relating to self-driving cars. According to the employee: “If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation, and one that will significantly hinder safety innovation, interstate commerce, national competitiveness, and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles.”

• GM’s partnership with Lyft could increase acceptance of self-driving cars. GM’s app-based ride service, which according to GM vice president of strategy will utilize autonomous technologies within “a couple” years, “could speed public acceptable of autonomous vehicles, while, at the same time, protect public safety through the ownership and control of the vehicle fleet by the manufacturer of the automated driving system.”

• Real estate now used for parking will be freed for redevelopment. According to the article, “If self-driving cars become commonplace, fleets of autonomous vehicles could roam the streets and take people wherever they want to go,” diminishing the need for long-term parking. According to a republican lawmaker from South Dakota, poses the possibility as follows: “Imagine a technology that will revolutionize parking as we know it, allowing that land to be reclaimed and repurposed.”

• Not so fast; the technology may not be ready. The director of robotics at Duke University offered a “cautionary note.” According to the director, “[g]oing from automated lane changing or automated parking to a car that can autonomously execute safe control under all possible driving conditions is a huge leap that companies are not ready to make.”
So what should we take away from these takeaways? Self-driving cars are going to change the landscape of our society, from seemingly innocuous things such as the number of parking lots in our cities to the function of vehicle occupants, ceding control of their vehicle—and personal safety—to computers.