Automotive technology has advanced so fast in recent years. Experts say that the rate at which technology changes personal transportation increases each year and consumers are more particular about automotive technology these days while shopping for a new car.
And now comes the self-driving car revolutionized by Google X. Also known as the autonomous vehicle, this type of personal transportation is predicted to be fully autonomous by 2020 notably in rural interstates with minimal variables and where inclement weather is rare.
Worldwide, several major manufacturers have started investing in similar projects. General Motors (GM) announced early this year that it will create its own self-driving cars. They will be used in the Lyft fleet as self-driving taxis. GM earlier invested US$500 million in Lyft and also acquired Cruise Automation, a startup focused on self driving technology, for more than US$1 billion.
Ford, for its part, said it plans to make fully autonomous Fords by 2021 and targets to have the largest fleet of self driving car prototypes by end of 2016. In line with this, it has also bought three companies in the autonomous driving technology field.
Chinese company Baidu has also said it will soon start testing driverless cars in the U.S. Baidu general manager Wang Jing recently revealed that they had been issued an autonomous vehicle testing permit by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and that their team in Silicon Valley has already developed the necessary technologies.
Driverless Cars in the U.S.
In the U.S., four states have already passed a law allowing self-driving cars on the streets. Nevada was the first to do these five years ago in June 2011 but the law took effect only a year after. The first license for an autonomous car in the state was issued in March 2012. Florida was the second state to allow the testing of autonomous cars followed by California and Michigan.
An investor in autonomous companies says roads in the U.S. will be full of autonomous cars in 10 years time. Chris Dixon who is a partner of the Andreessen Horowitz firm based in Silicon Valley, however, added that this could be shortened to two years depending on where people will be driving.
Google may be known to have provided self-driving technology to different car brands such as Toyota Prius, Audi TT and Lexus RX450h, the company has also come up with its own autonomous car. Since 2012, it has tested various types of cars including its own fleet of vehicles all in autonomous mode.
But while these driverless cars are enjoying their popularity around the globe, they are not exempt from accidents. "They may be technologically-advanced but since they are machines, they have certain limitations and can also malfunction and cause accidents," said Daniel A. Gibalevich, an injury attorney in Los Angeles. For this reason, continuous tests need to be done on these high-tech vehicles that don't require a driver for public safety, he added.
In fact just this May, the first ever death involving an autonomous car was recorded in the U.S. The US road safety administration reported that a man who owns a Tesla Model S got killed when his electric car operating in autopilot mode hit a lorry. His car's brake system did not work at that time as it failed to detect the white truck against the brightly lit sky thus resulting in a collision.
They pointed out that compared to the traditional car, the self driving vehicles still have several advantages such as being able to record everything in its surroundings in detail.