“Are driverless cars really coming?”

When I tell people about my research, people often ask me “Are driverless cars really coming?” It’s a really good question! There’s no doubt that the technology is getting really close. Google, automakers, and many universities are investing millions into the technology development. Four states have approved the testing of autonomous vehicles, and organizations around the world are setting up testing sites. In fact, there is testing going on in my own backyard! Check out the Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s new test site: an old naval weapons station and a video of the testing of the Google car.

While the technology development is important, the actual determination of how quickly driverless cars will be rolled out is likely reliant on some other significant factors:

  • As it stands, the main technology used for driverless cars (lidar) is extremely expensive. This Wall Street Journal article estimates the cost to be $30,000 – 85,000 apiece.
  • Consumers are skeptical about this technology. It’s a huge leap of faith and will likely take years of testing and transition to get to the point where driverless cars are accepted by the general population.
  • It’s unclear who will be responsible when there’s an accident. Should it be the “driver?” The car manufacturer? And what happens when the accident happens with a traditional driving car and a driverless car? Insurance companies are working on this now.
  • The government needs to determine what regulatory activities need to be put in place to protect all parties involved. People’s data needs to be protected, terrorist threats need to be minimized, and traffic enforcement still needs to occur.

The list is much longer than this, but it gives an idea of the many hurdles in place. None are insurmountable though… and they are all being discussed daily in news media around the world!

Autonomous Cars are Closer than You Think

5 Confounding Questions that Hold the Key to the Future of Driverless Cars

The Truth about Driverless Vehicles

What do you think?

About Lauren Isaac

I am the Manager of Transportation Sustainability at Parsons Brinckerhoff. Recently, I won the William Barclay Parsons fellowship for my research proposal to study how the United States government should respond to driverless cars. As I'm working on my research, I thought this blog would help to disseminate my findings and provide a forum for feedback.
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