Mercedes-Benz has now experimented with a driverless car, sending it on a 100 km journey that included passing through towns, stopping at red lights, and negotiating traffic circles. Apparently this was all done with off-the-shelf technology, and they hope to offer it to consumers by 2020. But Tesla Motors thinks they can have one ready for market in 3 years, albeit only mostly autonomous, not fully. Nissan and Volvo also are developing autonomous cars.
Oddly, Google, whick kickstarted this process, has been unable to find an auto manufacturer willing to partner with it. The public reason given is the possibility of being liable if an autonomous car crashes into something. That makes little sense, though, given that 1) liability would have been divided between Google and the manufacturer, possibly falling more on Google as the developer of the autonomy technology that, presumably, failed; and 2) manufacturers are now moving into the game in their own, clearly willing to carry the full risk of liability.
It seems more likely to me that the technology to do this is so readily available that development costs are going to be relatively low. Low enough, that is, that manufacturers expect to make more money by carrying those costs themselves while collecting all the profit than they expect to make by avoiding that cost but splitting the profits. Thst really sucks for Google. But the increasing number of manufacturers joining the game is great for consumers.
1. I can envision a future scenario where someone who has caused an accident will try to weasel out of liability by claiming they had the car on auto-pilot. My guess, though, is that these cars are being developed with devices for recording the car’s activity (initially just to aid R&D), so the weasels will fail.
2. The recording technology does create some privacy concerns, or would if the U.S. was the kind of country that liked to spy on its own citizens.
3. Driving enthusiast Patrick George at Jalopnik asks if people will really buy autonomous cars and concludes, with a mixture of approval (safety) and gloominess (he’s a driving enthusiast) that they probably will. Heck yes, it’s the only thing that could begin to tempt me to buy a new car.