The debut of driverless cars draws closer

The technology is maturing with every mile that's logged and prevailing regulations are favorable. When will these cars become available to the everyday American?
13 July 2018

Are self-driving cars coming to the market anytime soon? Source: Shutterstock

It’s been almost half a decade since we were promised driverless cars and the luxury and comfort that comes with the technology.

Unfortunately, auto manufacturers and tech companies haven’t been able to deliver on those promises so far.

On paper, autonomous vehicle technology is ready for the roads, but when it comes to hitting the road, the technology needs more practice.

Things aren’t black or white in the real world, and with human drivers and pedestrians to factor in, there are a lot of grey areas that crop up – and the technology needs to “mature” before it can be let loose on our streets.

However, the challenges don’t deter companies that are involved in transforming the industry. After all, the one that does finally bring the ‘perfect’ autonomous vehicle to market will forever have its name etched in history.

While every auto manufacturer is hard at work, forming partnerships with tech companies and startups to crack the code and come up with the solution, there are two tech giants who’ve got their eyes on the prize.

If you guessed Uber and Alphabet (Google), you guessed right. And while both those companies are developing the technology to power ‘cabs’ at first, individually owned vehicles are on the cards.

How are the leaders progressing?

Uber started out great last year, securing permits to trial its technology in several parts of the US, in partnership with local governments.

However, its cars ran into trouble when one met with an accident resulting in the death of a pedestrian. The incident forced the company to fold the program in Tempe, Arizona – the crash site.

As a result, this week, the company has decided to revisit its technology and train its drivers better before continuing with more on-road trials. According to media reports, Uber is cutting more than 100 test-driver jobs from its autonomous vehicle program in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

Hopefully, the company should be back on track soon, given the efforts and investment it has already made in the technology.

Google’s self-driving venture, dubbed Waymo, on the other hand, is making big strides and, so far, hasn’t gotten itself in the crosshairs of the law.

In fact, the company trialed its technology with a few ‘early riders’ earlier this year and the feedback (from the video below) seems promising.

Waymo is also working on a billion-dollar deal with Fiat Chrysler to buy 62,000 minivans – and it seems like the company will roll-out services to the public soon. Hopefully, nationwide.

There’s government support too

When it comes to new technologies, government organizations tend to play spoilsport. However, in the case of driverless vehicles, there has been government support throughout.

Aside from issuing Uber and Waymo (and other companies) with permits to trial their technology on US roads, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seemed showed their support and anticipation for the technology at an interview yesterday.

According to Bloomberg, Heidi King, Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said, “in the grand scheme of things in saving lives, impaired drivers and flawed human choices are still the big problems we need to solve as a nation.”

“At this point, the technology is so nascent I don’t think it is appropriate today to regulate this technology. It’s not there yet, but each and every day we are open to identifying when the time is right,” said King.

Instead, King pointed out that the NHTSA is focused on removing barriers to autonomous vehicles posed by existing rules.

According to Bloomberg, the NHTSA is willing to use its defect investigation, recall, and other enforcement powers to curb dangers that emerge from self-driving vehicles.

For now, the agency is more concerned about the “old enemies” of road safety: drunk driving and not wearing a seatbelt, which results in thousands of traffic fatalities in the US each year.

The US and the world seem ready for the driverless car revolution, and the government seems to be proactively making it easy for companies to bring the technology to life.

If all goes well, by mid-next year, TechHQ believes we should have driverless cars on the road in some parts of the US, if not across the country – and the world.