Imagine your car parks automatically, perfectly positioning itself just like you would have. Even better, imagine your car looking for a parking spot while you can relax checking your email. Good news, soon we will reach the level of fully autonomous vehicles.
While companies work hard on ways to commercialize the autonomous driving technology, customers and investors need to think about how much more, or less, these cars will cost us, and about possible threats or complications.
As far as costs go, we estimate that automobile accidents cost more $400 billion a year. Autonomous vehicles may prove to be safer for the road as they will include advanced safety features reducing the costs attributed to automobile accidents. A Few cars on the road today already have some of such features.
The BMW 5 series, Mercedes-Benz E-class models and the Hyundai Genesis, for example, are equipped with an automatic braking system and collision warnings in case the driver didn’t react. Mercedes is also leading the way with a system called “Stop&Go Pilot” which includes 12 ultrasonic detectors, five cameras and six radar sensors, all to allow the car to be on auto pilot during heavy traffic. As such features become more popular, insurance companies will give rewards to owners of such vehicles, as they will reduce human error.
Regarding possible threats or complications, it’s important to remember that while human error is the leading cause of accidents, people are capable of logical reasoning, while computers are not. In a scenario where your car has to choose to collide between two possible targets, the decision will be made from an algorithm that is very similar to a targeting algorithm, like those used in military weapons systems. Such a system is not able to recognize how many people are in front of it, or how old they are, and will be based on physics alone. This is a serious legal and moral issue.
Hackers are a concern as well. As cars become more and more dependent on digital technology, what is to stop hackers from taking control over it? Plus, The Department of Transportation wants to connect cars to a roadway infrastructure system in the near future, which has the potential to increase risk of malicious hacks.
With these big issues to deal with, Mercedes promises production of a fully autonomous S-Class version by 2020. Another interesting announcement came from Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) CEO, Elon Musk, who said earlier this year that Tesla would lead the way in autonomous car technology. Later on Elon Musk clarified that the company won’t be aiming for full autonomy, but an ‘autopilot system’ that still requires humans to be paying attention, which solves some of the problems mentioned earlier.
Tesla, it seems, is becoming the most innovative automobile manufacturer in the world, and also the most American one, with 90% American content. The company doubled the number of their employees in two years from 3,000 employees in 2012 to 6,000 today, and plans to triple that number by the end of the decade. The company is an important force in high tech manufacturing job growth in America.