A special freight truck took to the highways of the UK in March 2016. But it wasn’t what the truck was carrying which made this truck such a milestone, but who was driving the truck. Or perhaps it is more apt to say, what.
This is because the truck, which made an actual, successful delivery, was driven and operated completely autonomously by an onboard computer and without and assistance from a human being. Later that year, a truck carrying 50,000 cans of beer drove 120 miles across the state of Colorado. By itself.
Driverless vehicles are on the road today?
A fantasy for many, self driving vehicles are quickly becoming a reality. There are already driverless trains in use, driverless passenger drones will be deployed in 2017, and now, driverless 18 wheelers. But how long will it be until we start seeing private self driving cars on the road?
For now, most of the driverless technology is being focused on getting goods from one place to another, and driverless trucks are expected to become a more common site on the world’s highways in the years to come. There is already a shortage of 78,000 truck drivers in the US alone, and most truck driving accidents are caused by human error. Eliminating this human error, and eliminating the need to hire more drivers will make roads safer, and enable goods to cross continents cheaper.
The three leaders of autonomous car technology in the US are Google, Tesla, and surprisingly, Uber. The cars are currently undergoing beta testing, and have been succeeding – immensely. Google for instance has been testing its Waymo autonomous vehicles on city streets. In the three years of testing, the car has been involved in 14 accidents, of which 13 were caused by the human driver of the other car.
A computer is a better driver than you are
Driverless cars are expected to be so safe, that consulting firm Mckinsey and Company has estimated that the cars will prevent close to $200 billion in damages and save thousands of lives once human drivers are no longer needed. This is because human error is the cause of close to 90% of all fatal traffic accidents in the United States.
So what’s stopping me from buying one?
There are still hurdles to seeing widespread usage of driverless cars on the roads. Many of these are legal. When the US was creating a legal system for the nation’s roads for instance, they never envisioned that there would one day be cars that drive themselves. Driverless cars aren’t illegal, but they aren’t legal either.
Other major hurdles are price and technology. One of the most autonomous personal cars on the road today is the Tesla Model S, which isn’t yet fully autonomous and costs a whopping $76,000.
Will I ever see self driving cars?
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. US states and the federal government are currently coming up with legislation to legalize the use of driverless vehicles – from 18 wheelers and busses to personal vehicles. Additionally, as more and more data is collected and computer programs tweaked, full automation is quickly coming to fruition. Even the prices of these cars are dropping.
Pretty soon you’ll be texting in your car as it drives you to work, safe in the knowledge that every other car driving on the road is in sync, and that you will get to your destination safely. Car accidents will soon become a thing of the past.