With the rate of technological change seemingly increasing by the week, most accept that autonomous vehicles are coming; it’s just a question of when.
Some, like Henrik Christensen, the head of UC San Diego’s Contextual Robotics Institute, predict that kids born today will never get to drive a car.
“Autonomous, driverless cars are 10, 15 years out,” he told the San Diego Tribune in December.
“All the automotive companies – Daimler, GM, Ford – are saying that within five years they will have autonomous, driverless cars on the road.”
Mr Christensen says driverless cars will not only allow us to put twice as many vehicles on the road with little to no effort to improve current infrastructure, they also give us a chance to be more productive.
“I love to drive my car, but it’s a question of how much time people waste sitting in traffic and not doing something else,” he said.
“The average person in San Diego probably spends an hour commuting every day. If they could become more productive that would be good. In theory you’d get out of the car and say, ‘Pick me up at 4pm.’ Long-term – we’re talking 20 years into the future – you’re not even going to own a car. A car becomes a service.”
Mr Christensen’s predictions are supported by the likes of Tesla boss, Elon Musk, who said at the end of 2016 – that Tesla vehicles will become completely autonomous this year.
NuTonomy, a taxi start-up, claims its fleet of fully autonomous self-driving taxis will hit the road in 2019, while last year Fisker Inc. unveiled the EMotion, a car they insist will have fully autonomous driving features.
Not everyone, however, agrees that a driverless future is anywhere near the horizon. In January Gill Pratt, the head of Toyota’s Research Institute, said that we are ‘not even close’ to having fully autonomous cars.
“As wonderful as AI (Artificial Intelligence) is, AI systems are inevitably flawed,” he said.
“Historically human beings have shown zero tolerance for injury or death caused by flaws in a machine,” he said.
“We’re not even close to Level 5. It’ll take many years and many more miles, in simulated and real world testing, to achieve the perfection required for Level 5 autonomy.”
Level 5 autonomy is the purest form of autonomous driving; it means a vehicle can operate without any human intervention. But Mr Pratt argues that the journey to Level 5 will be slow.
Mr Pratt says Level 4 vehicles – those capable of performing all safety-critical driving functions – are more feasible, but we could still take decades to reach that point.
Despite Mr Pratt’s view, Toyota has unveiled its driverless concept, the Concept-i.
Most autonomous cars focus on a vehicle’s capability to operate without a human behind the wheel, however the Concept-i “demonstrates Toyota’s view that vehicles of the future should start with the people who use them,” the company explained in a press release…. Watch this space.