There’s lots of excitement today about the concept of so-called “self-driving vehicles.” Global management consulting firms and scholarly think tanks are predicting that in the next decade, autonomously operated vehicles will emerge as one of the world’s most “disruptive technologies,” changing everything from auto ownership and accident rates to land use and transportation infrastructure policies. There’s a sense of a relentless countdown to a time when automation will manifest itself in the vehicles navigating our roads just as automation just a few decades ago seemed to suddenly take over manually operated elevators in tall buildings and manual flying of airplanes in the skies.
They are probably right. There are significant investments around the world, both public and private, developing the standards, communications, mapping, sensing, computing, systems controls, cyber security, legal and insurance regimens needed to make it possible for self-driving vehicles to emerge and “disrupt.” With at least two major automobile manufacturers (Nissan and Volvo) setting 2020 as a target year for introducing their first mainstreamed, truly self-driving cars,1 today’s ten-year-olds may be taking driver’s education in 2020 with a some new test questions on how to regain control of a self-driving vehicle if the automated control system fails. Or, even more intriguing, they may not be taking a driver’s test at all, since they may decide, as many young people already are doing today, that owning and driving a car simply isn’t as important to them as it was to their parents. Indeed, they may decide that when they need to go somewhere, they can just call up an “aTaxi” and be driven there by a highly sophisticated, autonomous vehicle equipped with a host of smart sensors and chips controlling the car’s steering, throttle and brakes, as well as Internet connectivity that would enable them to watch movies, play videogames or interact with their friends on social media, all while riding to their destinations. Now those are “disruptive” thoughts.
Indeed, the countdown to mainstreaming of self-driving vehicles is being fueled simultaneously by suppliers and consumers in the marketplace. Technology companies, large and small, are racing to equip vehicles with sensors and control systems that will help them drive autonomously, and the consuming public is eagerly anticipating all the offerings. What’s not to love about technology, especially the kind that makes life easier, safer and more enjoyable?2 So if consumers want self-driving vehicles, and suppliers are willing to develop and sell them, what might slow down the countdown?
Here’s our list:
Traffic engineering in key areas may need to be modified or adapted to enable the safe operation of self-driving vehicles3.