The news is full of talk about self-driving vehicles. Nearly every major automaker has begun investing huge amounts of money into autonomous technology. And yet, among the general public, there’s still a belief that we’re decades away from the realisation of widespread self-driving cars.
Well, It’s coming much faster than that. Why? When we think of a safety advancement, we usually think that it has value mostly for regulatory institutions, id est, the government, but less value for consumers and corporations. Therefore, the advancements are usually costly and slow to reach the consumer. For example, Electronic Stability Control, invented in 1990, has reduced single-vehicle accidents by roughly 50%. Regardless, it took 21 years for the Canadian government to make it compulsory on new vehicles sold. Why? Because consumers don’t know what it is, and no one stood to make a huge profit from it. But that is not the case with autonomous vehicles.
The trucking industry presents one small example of self-driving tech’s commercial appeal. Right now, there are roughly 3.5 million truckers employed in the United States. And estimates place the average salary for truckers in that country around $40,000 USD. That means trucking companies in the United States are paying their drivers 140 billion dollars annually. But that doesn’t even account for the potential savings available in eliminating cab drivers, delivery drivers, emergency vehicle drivers, and so on.
To get rid of the cost of human drivers is a massive incentive for both public and private organisations. As a result, we’re seeing huge investments being made in autonomous tech from both sides. And we haven’t even mentioned the non-professional drivers yet!
The rise of autonomous driving has great appeal for commuters. First, AI systems will be able to drive much more safely than humans ever could, especially considering the immense rise of distracted driving complaints. Those who value their lives are willing to invest a few thousand dollars in that peace of mind.
The second advantage for the average driver is the time savings. Even those who place a minimum value on their own time will see a benefit in taking their hands off the wheel. In fact, the number of distracted driving accidents show that people would rather be doing something other than piloting their vehicles. The ability to rest, read, or work while commuting is very exciting to the average person who wastes a great deal of their life at red lights.
However, for many, it feels like the prospect of having a robotic chauffeur is still decades away from becoming a reality. Let’s take a look at where we are now in terms of autonomous driving.
Let’s take the 2018 Ford Explorer for example. It offers a remarkable combination of partially autonomous features. First is BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) with Cross-Traffic Alert. This feature uses rearward sensors to detect vehicles in blind spots and alerts the driver. It works on the road at speed, and when maneuvering parking lots. It can also be combined with the available Lane-Keeping System which alerts drivers when they drift from their lane. Finally, 2018 Ford Explorer owners can add Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning and brake support. This feature automatically adjusts cruising speed on the highway to remain a safe distance behind forward traffic. When the traffic clears in front, your Explorer will automatically return to your preferred cruising speed.
When you combine these three features, you get a futuristic-feeling driving experience. But the human driver remains literally essential. The challenge right now is not for But the missing piece of the puzzle is the software that controls all those sensors and cameras. In simple terms, automakers are still working on “the brain” of self-driving systems. But Ford is getting close.
At the beginning of 2017, Ford invested 1 billion to acquire Argo A.I, an American developer of artificial intelligence systems and robotics. Argo’s virtual driver system will be the brains behind future autonomous Fords. And apparently, they’ve been making progress. Ford recently partnered with Domino’s Pizza to build an automatic pizza-delivery machine out of a new Ford Fusion. The demonstration is pretty impressive and shows that the Blue Oval is well on its way to achieving its goal of delivering a 100% autonomous vehicle with no steering wheel or pedals by 2021.