For so long it seemed like the kind of technology you’d find in science fiction: Simply get in a car, tell it where you want to go and get chauffeured to whatever location you desire. Today, the widespread availability of that technology has never been nearer with companies like Google, Honda, Tesla and Uber envisioning a bold future of driverless cars taking us where we need to go.
In Boston, the first autonomous driving cars will be hitting road on January 3 for tests. According to nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma, “We are ready to go, basically could have been testing any time over the last couple of weeks, we were just waiting for this final approval.” With nuTonomy, originally spun out of MIT, now testing the streets of Boston’s Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park, another major city has opened its doors to the possibility of a driverless future.
BI Intelligence predicts 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020
While predictions on the future of autonomous vehicles vary, some analysts are foreseeing that millions of self-driving cars could go past the testing phase and hit the road by 2020. A BI Intelligence report from Business Insider back in June= assessed that as many as 10 million self-driving cars could be driving our streets in just a few years from now.
Their analysis of the market largely comes down to the current availability of autonomous driving technology, with an acknowledgment that significant legal challenges still remain when it comes to reaching widespread adoption of fully driverless cars. According to Business Insider, a distinction should be made between cars that would be completely driverless, compared to those that can drive on their own with some kind of override from a driver in the car. “Fully autonomous cars are further divided into user-operated and driverless vehicles. Because of regulatory and insurance questions, user-operated fully autonomous cars will come to market within the next five years, while driverless cars will remain a long ways off.” They also predict that widespread availability of self-driving cars could significantly cut down on accidents and improve the safety of driving, explaining, “The biggest benefits of self-driving cars are that they will help to make roads safer and people's lives easier. In the UK, KPMG estimates that self-driving cars will lead to 2,500 fewer deaths between 2014 and 2030.”
Waymo potentially partnering with Honda
With Waymo, Alphabet (parent company of Google) is putting its resources and financial muscle behind the prospect of fully driverless cars, testing its technology in Mountain View, CA, Austin, TX, Kirkland, WA and Phoenix, AZ. In October 2015, Waymo completed the first fully-driverless trip on a public road without a test driver on board and amid ordinary traffic conditions. Their next step is to “let people trial fully self-driving cars to do everyday things like run errands or commute to work.”
In a press release from Honda on December 21, Waymo and Honda announced that they’ll be entering discussions to collaborate on self-driving automobile technology. “As part of the discussion on technical collaboration, Honda could initially provide Waymo with vehicles modified to accommodate Waymo's self-driving technology. These vehicles would join Waymo's existing fleet, which are currently being tested across four U.S. cities.” Honda has also previously announced its goal to implement cars with automated driving capabilities in its production by 2020.
Uber aggressively pushing for self-driving cars across the country
While encountering recent regulatory setbacks in San Francisco with its implementation of self-driving cars, Uber is remaining defiant in pushing for a future of autonomous vehicles. According to a December 21 article from The Wall Street Journal, “Autonomous vehicles are crucial to the future for Uber, which hopes to use them to replace the roughly 1.5 million drivers who contract with the company to provide rides.” Despite having the licenses revoked on its fleet of 16 autonomous cars, Uber has clarified that the company plans on “redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules” and is “now looking at where we can redeploy these cars but remain 100 percent committed to California.”
Tesla Autopilot appears to predict an accident ahead
In a dashcam video that’s going viral, footage from a Tesla Model X with Autopilot technology appears to predict and successfully avoid an accident on the road ahead. The electric car’s automatic brake system can be seen sensing the danger ahead and stopping the vehicle in time to avoid a collision, keeping its driver safe. In article from ABC News, Tesla confirms that the beeping sounds in the video are to be “triggered by radar sensing the vehicle two cars ahead was slowing down.” In an interview with Electrek, Hans Noordsij, the driver who reported the video explained that everyone involved in the accident “turned out to be OK.” The recent footage is being seen by industry analysts as potentially significant in showcasing the potential present-day safety advantages of autonomous driving.