So you jump into your car and there is no steering wheel, no gear stick and no pedals. You tell your car where it is that you want to go to (just like you would talk to Siri), sit back and enjoy the ride: You read a newspaper, make a few phone calls or just take a short power nap.
That is the promise of the driverless car, right? A dream that many companies are working hard to transform into a reality we can drive (or rather been driven in) in the near future. The funny thing, though, is that among those companies we do not just find those to be expected (traditional car manufacturers, such as Volkswagen or Volvo) but also those that seem to be a bit “out of place” (traditional tech companies, such as Intel, Nvidia or Apple).
Additionally there are some who are neither one nor the other, but that are heavily invested in the transportation market, albeit from a new and different perspective: That is the case of Uber, that is legitimately interested in driverless car technologies as a means of increasing their benefit margins -while leaning more towards the tech side of their platform, minimizing the human element.
Now, the million dollar question is: When will this technology be ready? I like Marcy Klevorn’s (Executive Vice President and President of Mobility for Ford Motor Co.) answer.:
It’ll be ready when it’s ready. It’s an evolution.”
That is: No one knows. Yet. Although, in the meantime, we are all benefiting from all the work those companies are putting into this effort. Some examples:
- adaptive cruise control
- self-parking technologies
- traffic signals reading
- lane departure warning systems
Yes, all these (and many more) technologies that will allow driverless cars to navigate by themselves have already trickled down to current production models, so that while we wait for the dream to come true we can start to enjoy some of them (if you buy a new car, that is).
Of course, there are many issues that need to be resolved before we can all start to drive (or be driven in) driverless cars, such as:
- infrastructures (roads that those cars can navigate safely without human input)
- legislation (laws that allow those cars to be manufactured and sold)
- insurance policies (who will be to blame if two driverless cars collide?)
- mindsets (will you ride in a car with no steering wheel?)
So many issues, in fact, that one can’t help but wonder if by the time they are available they will be necessary. Why? Because as the world’s population is becoming increasingly urban, the need for cars decreases. Think about it: Would you own a car if you lived in New York City or London or Madrid?
I know I wouldn’t, and I seem not to be alone -for a growing number of young people are shunning cars altogether: according to the UK Department for Transport almost 50% of 17-20 year olds could drive in 1992-94, but figures from 2014 show just 29%; slightly older drivers, aged 21-29, had also decreased, from 75% to 63%.
I understand that for some people cars are and will continue to be an essential necessity, for a number of reasons (I know all too well, since I do and will continue to unless I move to the city). But we should not forget that, at the same time, for many people not driving is more than an option -it’s an attitude, a state of mind. I look forward to the moment I can join those ranks.