The innovation of self-driving cars has been happening behind the scenes for a few years now. It’s also been happening on public roads without much fanfare and in courtrooms with much more attention.
The two front runners in the field which will readily be available to consumers are Waymo, a Google spinoff, and Uber, the ridesharing pioneer that’s looking to become a disruptor in another field. There’s no clear leader yet, but the victor will be the organization that can acquire the best talent in data analytics and fast learning, both human and machine.
Driverless cars operate using a variety of cameras and sensors positioned strategically on a vehicle, in addition to a combination of LIDAR and RADAR to assess the environment the car travels through with enough distance to predict outcomes of other objects and vehicles on the road. Surprisingly, the amount of hardware needed to process that information is small; in fact, Chevrolet is using cars right off their factory floor with some small additions, to operate its Cruise service, due out in 2019.
What is also surprising is that while Waymo is investing a large sum of both capital and engineering expertise, it doesn’t plan on actually selling these driverless vehicle systems direct to consumers; instead it will leverage the technology in its rideshare platform.
But before you hop into an automated car for a quick trip across town, are they really safe?
Currently, legislation is before Congress to remove conventional automobile safety regulations from thousands of self-driving cars on the roads today, as the field of driverless technology is evolving so rapidly that attempts to regulate would be obsolete as soon as they are put into law. What makes more sense, is that more scrutiny is applied to Waymo, Uber and the like to make their test and operational data collected thus far to be available to authorities and the public at large. This would create oversite of a hard-to-govern new technology and provide transparency while allowing progress to move forward.
We are already sharing the roads with the future in some states, and a safe driverless taxi platform isn’t very far away.