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By now, you’ve likely heard a little about the recent spike in self-driving car technology. Numerous companies have already rolled out “semi-autonomous” vehicles in recent years. These cars contain extremely sophisticated sensor technology that allows them to automatically steer through roadways by sensing and adjusting to surrounding objects.
The ultimate goal is to reduce traffic deaths and injuries on roadways. Studies show that about 35,000 people die in U.S. traffic accidents every year — and 95 percent of those are caused by driver errors.
Taking the next step forward, General Motors requested permission from the federal government to operate up to 2,500 fully autonomous cars through their own ride-hailing service in 2019. GM’s car, the Cruise AV, is fully self-driving and even lacks a steering wheel and pedals, as pictured here. GM plans to start in just one city to test it out. Most experts believe it will be San Francisco, California, or Scottsdale, Arizona. The company intends to scale the service up to multiple cities after the first rollout.
Depending on the success of their first rollout, GM eventually hopes to expand the self-driving cars from just ride-hailing services to companies such as Domino’s Pizza and local courier delivery companies. And don’t just think that GM is the only company pursuing this technology. Google, Uber, and Lyft, among others, are all currently testing out their own fully autonomous ﬂeets in California, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Tesla also just released a semiautonomous 18-wheeler truck in late 2017.
The most ambiguous aspect of this technological revolution is bound to be the consumer response. The lack of a steering wheel, gas pedal, and brake pedal is sure to make more than a few people nervous due to the lack of control. Additionally, occasional traffic crashes involving semiautonomous vehicles have created huge headlines, whether or not the driverless technology is found to be at fault.
One such example occurred when 40-year-old ex-Navy SEAL Joshua Brown was killed in 2016 after his semi-autonomous Tesla Model S sedan crashed into an 18-wheeler. The causes of the crash are not simple at all: Post-crash data from the car revealed that Brown only had his hands on the wheel for 25 seconds of his 37 minute trip; Brown was also warned six times by the car’s software that he had gone too long with his hands off the wheel; the 18-wheeler driver claimed that Brown was watching a movie in the car at the time of the wreck, though no proof of this was ever found. Despite all of this, the Tesla autopilot software never seemed to recognize the 18-wheeler in front of it. Instead it seemingly mistook the white trailer for part of the sky. However, after an extensive investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board took no action against Tesla for the crash.
Nevertheless, it only appears to be a matter of time before these vehicles enter the roadway. As the technology spreads around the world, it is bound to run into opposition, whether from social media and public forums to the federal government. Only time will tell what further obstacles the movement will encounter, and how the general public will warm up to the new technology on our doorstep.