I’ve been dreaming of a car without a driver since I first saw the Back to the Future movies growing up. The thought of being able to roll out of bed and read the newspaper or eat breakfast on the way to work is way to exciting to describe. I knew Google was doing some research on this. I had heard somewhere that they were testing some cars, but I didn’t know what kind of success they were having. I found a really cool video of ones of the test rides with a blind driver named Steve Mahan.
In the video, Steve takes the car along with the team working on this technology from Google and goes to Taco Bell and the dry cleaner before heading back to his house. While in the past I had considered this technology interesting, I hadn’t considered its benefits to society. This technology is more than just something to give me a few extra minutes. A driver-less car is first about accessibility for the disabled. Think of all the people you know who can’t drive, from those that are born without sight to those with other disabilities. According to the National Federation of the Blind in 2011, 6.6 million people in the United States reported to have a visual disability. Giving just these people more independence would be life changing for both the disabled and their loved ones.
Beyond the benefits to blind and otherwise disabled , vehicle safety can be seriously improved with driver-less cars. Driving accidents today are most often caused by human error. Eliminating the human elements of driving through programming will not only increase safety, but also lead to more efficient traffic patterns. Traffic jams could become a thing of the past once Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication becomes the norm.
In February, the Federal Department of Transportation announced that it would allow lights cars to activate V2V communication. Early adoption of V2V travel will be fairly simple, since the majority of cars won’t have it. The strength of V2V systems will multiply as more people adopt it. V2V systems will one day combine complex algorithms to create routes for the greatest efficiency of all drivers on the road.
The widespread adoption of cars with major V2V systems will be only as fast as the regulatory environment and car manufacturers can implement it. Will state and federal governments be able to charge tolls to take the most efficient routes to keep roads clear? Will the market be slow to innovate with these new technologies, much like Kodak was after developing digital photography? Or will these companies take advantage and make the cars of today obsolete. If I have any say, I hope that car companies follow the words of Steve Jobs, who in an interview with Inc Magazine said, ” You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. ”