Not to be a back-seat driver, but are we there yet? You’re probably thinking the same thing we are: when are self-driving cars going to be any more real than an occasional Forbes tweet? Autonomous vehicles are a key piece of the Internet of Things— and they’re pretty much already here! We’re hoping that using AI for transportation will make our cities smarter, our streets safer, and our lives easier. So, what’s the status report?
Behind the wheel
Here are some names you’ve heard before: Tesla, Google, and Uber. You can already order Elon Musk’s state-of-the-art Tesla autopilot, and it’s getting updated in real time. Google’s been building and testing Waymo since 2009 and has driven a collective 2.7 billion miles so far. Uber has also started to roll out autonomous taxis in some American cities. The honorable mentions? General Motors (180 cars being tested in San Francisco!), and the partnership tech company Nvidia has made with Volkswagen.
Paving the roads
What’s taking so long? First of all, computers. More than 500,000 lines of code make up the algorithms that these cars use to perceive environments, localize using high-def maps, and analyze what’s happening in the street. Machines need time to learn too: in order for your driverless car to know when to brake, it needs to have experienced thousands of crosswalk simulations. Just think about the last time your significant other randomly got upset in the grocery store—it takes time to teach cars to recognize and predict human behaviour. And we don’t want any bugs in the software that decides whether or not to cruise through an intersection.
Secondly, the paperwork. We all want to be automatically whisked away to work, but the reality is that our laws don’t quite allow that yet. We all heard about the incident in which a pedestrian was killed by a self-driving car in Arizona. This kind of bad press, when combined with general public suspicion and cumbersome legislative processes, has slowed down our self-driving cars considerably. The idea that our new cars could require pedestrians to behave differently is troubling to many— we want to be certain we aren’t making roads safer for cars, instead of cars safer for people.
The extra mile
How we move around in our cities is changing. Just look at citi bikes and beacon technology— the IOT is making change happen every day. And who knows what new things autonomous driving will bring on? There’s already talk of environmental monitoring, inter-car communication, and cloud connection as a result of the union of transportation and computer chips. As we watch driverless cars enter the market, we come to a key moment in the planning of our future. Are you ready to move over and let bots get behind the wheel?