Long Road to Self-Driven Cars May Be Short

Long Road
Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson derivative work: Mariordo [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Financial Times recently released an informative and well-balanced 12-minute video discussing the long road to self-driving cars.

Early in the video, the host declares “it is no longer a question of if but when” self-driven cars will become a reality. I agree wholeheartedly with the assessment but I believe this future will arrive faster than the video implies for a number of reasons.

First, to understand how fast the landscape for self-driven vehicles is changing, consider this: Early in the video the Financial Times accurately states that “only certified engineers can sit behind the wheel of self-driven cars.” Alas, just today, Google announced it will pay people $20 an hour to sit in self-driven vehicles while the car captures and records data. The information is being gathered for the express purpose of making robotic cars a reality sooner rather later.

Another trend escalating the use of autonomous vehicles includes the fact that in addition to Google, GM, Volvo, Toyota, Volkswagen, Audi, Uber, Baidu and Ford are also undertaking ambitious projects in this space. The latter is even testing robotic cars in snowy conditions. Moreover, a number of countries, including the UK, China, Greece, Singapore, Germany, and Sweden, are also aggressively moving forward with autonomous driving projects.

The most powerful accelerant driving self-driving vehicles forward is the fact that the technological infrastructure supporting these vehicles is rapidly improving. Nvidia and others are building better and more affordable sensors and radar systems; GPS satellite technology is becoming more ubiquitous and affordable, and the growing prevalence of “The Internet of Things” is making the physical infrastructure of roads and bridges more intelligent.

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Combine these trends with the startling progress being made in the field of artificial intelligence and it is obvious that soon every autonomous car will be able to share everything it learns with every other robotic vehicle in the world.

More than anything this powerful auto-catalytic process–which will make robotic cars radically smarter and more intuitive than even the best human driver–will convince the public and regulators that self-driving cars are the wisest thing society can do if it wants to minimize road deaths and accidents; reduce traffic congestion; and limit the environmental impact of automobiles.

This article is authored by Jack Uldrich. Jack Uldrich is a leading transportation and urban futurist. He is the author of 11 books, including Foresight 2020: A Futurist Explores the Trends Transforming Tomorrow.

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