This week, there has been a lot of buzz about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2015. Many automakers focused on electronics that made cars smarter and more connected (part of the Internet of Things movement). The real show-stealing moment came when Audi unveiled a self-driving A7 Sportback with a release date in 2016. The car in fact drove itself to the conference!
BMW also demoed a self-parking car at the CES 2015 event. Now, there is no need for a valet! You could drop yourself off at the hotel lobby and tell the car to go park itself in the garage. The car parked itself on the highest parking lot floor, furthest from the entrance. And the inconvenient location didn’t matter because it could be called back to the lobby whenever needed!
Audi and BMW are not the only players in the market. In 10 years, you could see several of these cars on the road. In 20 years, it may be the norm. Imagine commuting to work in your driverless car and being able to relax and not partake in any road rage. You could sit back and leisurely drink your coffee and check email or watch a movie. You could send the car to pick your kids up at school and drop them off at their afterschool activities. You could take a nap while the car drives you to your weekend vacation spot. Oh, the possibilities!
Driverless cars are not a new concept. Google has been developing the brains of autonomous vehicles for many years now. Their cars have driven over a million kilometers unaided. These cars pack over $150,000 worth of equipment that combine artificial intelligence with sophisticated sensors. The Google cars can read street signs, notice pedestrians in a crosswalk, and identify a cyclist making a turn signal with his arm. And the sophisticated sensors enable Google cars to be incredibly safe. Google has had only two accidents so far in these vehicles. In each instance, the accident occurred when the human driver touched the wheel. It won’t be too far in the future, when driverless cars won’t even need (or be required by law to have) a driver or steering wheel.
So, who is going to be “driving” these cars? The driverless cars market is still in the embryonic stage, however, there are already companies besides Google that have put them to use. In Australia, BHP Billton has deployed 6 autonomous heavy-duty mining trucks to haul iron ore from a remote location. The trucks provide a safer environment for the workers since they don’t have to drive back from the mines fatigued and through dangerous, rocky conditions. The advantages of driverless cars are vast and can have huge implications for the commercial trucking, busing, and taxicab industries. Heck, we may have autonomous postal truck deliveries. You can be sure that any industry that deploys a large fleet of cars is closely watching this technology.
Aside from the commercial applications, driverless cars can enable a whole population of people who physically or legally cannot drive. Think about elderly people who have lost their licenses because their reflexes or sight is not good enough. Driverless cars can also give disabled people like the blind newfound mobility and freedom. There would be no need to worry about drunk drivers or people driving while texting. These vehicles are safer and can even be more skilled than the professional drivers on NASCAR. Check out this YouTube video of a Google car going through an obstacle course at 60mph.