Whether or not driverless cars become the future — and some describe the idea as “pure science fiction” — the concept is catching on with both the automakers and the general public. Companies from Mercedes to Ford Motor Co. are installing driverless features into their cars, with several automakers promising to deliver driverless cars within a decade. Indeed, such a development is a huge shift to the 100+-year-old idea of car ownership: namely, independence and flexibility to go where you want, when you want. Nevertheless, driverless car technology could help reduce the scourge of the estimated yearly 1.2 million deaths blamed on automobile accidents. The evidence also suggests driverless technology could have long-term environmental benefits.
Google is behind much of the hype surrounding driverless cars. The Internet search giant claims its engineers have driven over 1 million miles testing this technology. Toyota Priuses, Lexus SUVs and Google’s VW bug-like prototype have hit the streets in Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas.
Detroit is certainly not going to be left out of the slow but steady trend toward driverless cars. According to Yahoo Autos, Google and Ford are close to creating a joint venture to develop and manufacture cars that will use Google’s driverless technology. The collaboration will reportedly be announced at the annual Consumer Electronics Show next month in Las Vegas.
Ford has already been visible on the driverless car bandwagon for several years. Two years ago, the automaker revealed a driverless Fusion hybrid in partnership with the University of Michigan and State Farm. That car aims to function as a research platform by which engineers could study the legal, regulatory, technological and societal issues that will confront a future with driverless cars on the road. And this fall, Ford started testing a driverless car at Mcity, the University of Michigan’s test center for driverless cars and related automated transportation systems. Meanwhile the company has been working with Silicon Valley firms as its driverless car R&D advanced to what it describes as an “advanced engineering phase.”
Many consumers are still jittery at the thought of driverless cars, but in fairness this technology is still in its infancy. Companies have been more focused on the competitive race to release such an automobile by the mid-2020s instead of educating potential customers on driverless cars’ potential benefits.
In a sign that Google considers driverless cars more of a serious business venture than a publicity stunt, Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the driverless cars business unit will become part of Google’s Alphabet spin-off company. Ford and Google will surely have plenty of competition coming from all directions: Uber has clearly expressed its desire to replace its drivers with automated technology in the near future, and its test cars have been seen driving all over Pittsburgh.
A future of less road-rage and reduced angst while merging onto freeway traffic may very well occur sooner than many of us think.
Image credit: Google
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.