You've probably read about self-driving cars before: they run off of computers, and supposedly will be able to help limit the amount of accidents that occur on the road to a significant degree. Some individuals even foresee a future where self-driving cars will be more common on the streets than automobiles with drivers behind a real wheel! However, if you love driving, don't fret: those experts note that we likely won't see driverless cars hitting critical mass anytime in the next few decades.
Gary Silberg, an industry projector for consulting firm KPMG, feels that way. He recently told NBC News that he expects that roughly half of all vehicles sold to consumers will be self-driving cars – in the year 2039. However, it's worth noting that he also expects to see these cars on the road in a big way well before then. Navigant Research, another firm quoted by the news outlet, agrees: they project that almost 95 million self-driving cars will be sold annually by the year 2035.
Some industry experts even told NBC News that all the technology required to create self-driving, safe cars exists already – the next step is getting the culture to accept the vehicles as a viable replacement for drivers.
"The technology has evolved," Johann Jungwirth, president of the research and development division at Mercedes-Benz North America, explained to NBC News. "The sensors, actuators and so on are already there. It is really about integration. We are along the path to get there and I foresee that day coming."
One of the reasons self-driving cars can potentially save lives is the same reason that they have not yet been implemented to a high degree. However, Don Norman, director of the Design Lab at the University of California San Diego, explained to NBC News that human drivers and computer-based self-driving cars could run into complications in regards to communicating with one another – and that such a problem needs to be solved before we see self-driving cars on the road in a big way. So don't trade in your keys anytime soon!
"When you have two types of vehicles on the road, it will be very messy," Norman explained. "For example, what if two vehicles [are] approaching an intersection and the cars talk to each other as the stoplight goes from green to yellow. One car may calculate it should speed up to clear the intersection, but if the driver in that car thinks that's the wrong move and hits the brake, there will be an accident."
Google's self-driving car is helping to lead the way
One of the most "famous" self-driving cars currently operating is the fleet of autonomous vehicles owned by Google. The company has offered many demonstrations of how self-driving cars work – and have even sent some out onto the open roads. When asked about the project, company representatives told CBC News that the drive to make self-driving cars is essentially a humanitarian one. If these vehicles are adopted en masse, they could help limit the number of people hurt in car accidents by a significant amount.
"Thousands and thousands of people are killed in car accidents every year," Dmitri Dolgov, the project's lead software engineer, explained to the news outlet. "This could change that."
Clearly, there is a definite upside to the widespread use of driverless cars: the autonomous nature of the vehicles could help to bring injuries, and even fatalities, caused by car accidents to all-time low levels. However, that isn't likely to happen until the 2030s or the 2040s – so until then, you need to protect yourself with auto insurance coverage and smart driving techniques.
We want to know: Would you purchase a driverless car? Do you think this technology is a good idea, or a bad idea?