There are more and more news stories these days about self-driving and autonomous cars.
They are making a gradual rollout on highways and streets and some manufacturers, led by Tesla, are on the forefront of this emerging technology.
My question is this: can self-driving and autonomous cars be used to safely drive you home from a bar, concert, music festival, a ballgame or just a night out on the town where you may have had one or two more beers or glasses of wine than you planned on when you headed out the door?
And if so, would this spell the end of Lyft, Uber and other ridesharing apps?
I had spent the early days of my career working in automotive public relations but I’m quite a bit removed from that industry. So to have those questions answered I consulted fellow lifestyle blogger James Hills of ManTripping.com, who works closely with several automotive manufactures. And here are his answers to my questions.
If there’s one thing I learned in PR (actually, I learned a LOT of things) it’s whenever you don’t have the answers to something, go to someone who has them. James is that person for this article.
1.) How close is automated driving to reality?
“It depends on how you define automated driving … fully autonomous driving like you see in sci fi movies like the Johnny Cab in Total Recall is at least 20-30 years away. This is as much because we need to redesign roads, laws, and get chaotic human drivers off the roads.
“However, systems such as Super Cruise are here today and can operate common tasks like lane centering, following curves around roads, even switching lanes safely – without having your hands on the wheel. This is wonderful for use on long road trips and perhaps for use in traffic while commuting. However, the human is still the driver and is being monitored for attention to the road through a variety of sensors.
“This is what we call Level 2 self driving and Tesla’s Autopilot is at the same level though tweaked to be a bit less restrictive than Super Cruise.”
2.) Do you think it’s a viable option to use to get home from bars, parties, festivals, etc., and if so, what’s your thoughts on the effects it will have on rideshare services?
“As of right now, drivers under the influence should not be behind the wheel PERIOD. Technology is there to assist a sober, skilled driver who is prepared to control the vehicle. As technology and urban planning improve though, autonomous vehicles will be a good solution – and this is why Lyft and Uber both have spent enormous amounts of money investing in these technologies.”
3.) How soon will this become reality?
“This is hard to say since right now the technology is nearly there to allow it to happen in limited circumstances where you accept a moderate level of failure and a small (but not inconsequential) risk of catastrophic failure.
“However, technology will likely improve faster than laws and urban planning restrictions. Even the most skilled computer will not be able to account forerratic human drivers. As such, what we may see in 25-40 years is that urban areas are designated automated only zones where human drivers are prohibited.
“This will allow safer operation of the autonomous vehicles as well as the ability to have denser, more efficient road spaces. as well as being safer for pedestrians and other mobility.
“So we’re a long way from this becoming reality.
“Ultimately, during this time we will have a split in what is considered a ‘car.’ That’s why we use the term mobility or vehicle. For instance, you may see busses that act like street cars on dedicated lanes where the driver is more of an attendant, a backup if things go wrong. You may even see dedicated lanes for personal mobility vehicles that are autonomous but these things take time to come to be implemented on a wide-use basis.
“Just look at the struggles to add bike lanes. Now, multiple the cost and consider the challenges of doing that again.”
The bottom line is that Lyft, Uber and other rideshare apps are safe for now. But like any current technology, they risk becoming the way of CD boom boxes with new and emerging technology.