Over the past two years stories about autonomous cars have been popping up with more and more frequency. Several different auto manufacturers have been developing self-driving vehicles, with GM, BMW, Audi and a Toyota/Google partnership leading the way. It no longer seems the stuff of science fiction, but a fact that could become reality fairly soon. By 2015 GM will be producing Cadillacs that have some autonomous features, and they’ve already promised fully automated models by 2020.
Audi has partnered with Stanford on an automated TT, which will be tested on a drive navigating Pikes Peak. Toyota has been test-driving their Google-powered autonomous Prius hybrids for quite some time now, and have declared the vehicles have already driven more than 300,000 automated miles. Several of these groups are working hard to push through licensing programs for self-driving vehicles in states across the country, and according to estimates put forth by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, three quarters of all cars on the road will be automated by 2040.
The Institute, known as IEEE released a number of additional predictions that look at far more than the vehicles themselves. They analyzed how infrastructure would adjust, and what changes you could expect to see in society as a whole. In their vision of a world of autonomous vehicles, traffic lights and street signs would no longer be necessary. With the majority of cars doing the driving for us, driver’s licenses may soon be a thing of the past. While it may sound like a pretty massive change to happen over less than thirty years, the truth is tests are already being conducted to uncover any hurdles that could get in the way of this outcome.
Most would think that infrastructure issues would be the largest that need to be faced, but IEEE declares that isn’t the case at all. According to Dr. Alberto Broggi, one of the senior members of the organization, autonomous vehicles would actually require far less infrastructure than current manned models. He pointed out that the Google/Prius vehicles navigate based on incredibly specific maps and state-of-the-art camera systems, neither of which relies on infrastructure in any way. And he would know. Back in 2010 he ran a project that saw two autonomous cars complete an 8,000-mile trip between Parma and Shanghai. Google isn’t commenting on his suggestions quite yet, but their tests are starting to speak for themselves.
The way that autonomous cars are deployed would also evolve over time. At first it would certainly take a level of communication within the infrastructure that hasn’t been seen before. It would require something similar to air traffic control towers, but less susceptible to human error. After all, you’d be talking about millions of vehicles to monitor. As autonomous cars develop, the way they can be made to coordinate with each other would lead to uses you wouldn’t automatically expect. For example, a communication system is being developed in Ann Arbor that would allow cars to relate information to each other about immediate conditions on the road. Not only would that minimize crashes, but it could also increase fuel efficiency. Cars could move in a sort of “train”, with a tight pattern and identical speed, increasing fuel efficiency and improving aerodynamics. With that and other breakthroughs on the horizon, the days of having to head to Cheapcarinsurance.net to find affordable coverage are certainly numbered. After all, accidents would no longer be blamed on the owner, but on a glitch in the vehicle itself.