Autonomous Vehicles: The Future of the Car

A Google Driverless Vehicle going through the paces on a test course. Photo from Wikimedia.

There’s a coming inflection in how data and computational power are used in how we interact with vehicles.  Google is focused on self-driving vehicles, Ford is betting big on connected vehicles and finding business models that improve the safety and efficiency of vehicles is increasingly important.

Freakonomics Radio’s recent podcast, “Baby You Can Program My Car” outlines some of the statistics that will drive adoption.  Steven Dubner, author of “The Hidden Side of Everything” interviewed Dr. Raj Rajkumar of Carnegie Mellon University, where he works on autonomous vehicles.  The high level statistics are impressive.

  • 93% of auto accidents are due to human error.
  • 34,000 traffic deaths per year in the US alone.
  • 2,000,000 adults go the emergency room per year in the US.
  • 1,000,000 traffic deaths per year globally.
  • 80% of drivers rate themselves ‘Above Average’ – people like to drive.
  • Industries effected: Auto, Insurance, Healthcare, Logistics, Entertainment (drink all you want, the robot will drive you home)

“Do not let humans drive” appears to be an effective rule in reducing vehicle accidents in cities, low speeds, high speeds and almost every possible situation.  CMU is working with General Motors on a vehicle that doesn’t have all of the extraneous components so frequently seen on the Google vehicles and is lower in cost.  My alma mater, The University of Virginia, had also spent time creating autonomous vehicles, one of which, Tommy Jr. (named after Thomas Jefferson) participated in an early DARPA challenge.

Update: June 2013

The Free University of Berlin is pursuing self-driving cars, positioning Germany as a leader in the field.  Their Volkswagen Passat is a testbed for what Germany hopes will be a fleet of autonomous taxis.  The latest German-made Mercedes S-Class has both a camera to focus on the road and multiple radar sensors.  A Director at Mercedes expressed his belief that vehicles will be functioning on their own, “in a couple of years.”

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