With so much happening in the autonomous vehicle industry, we thought it was time for a roundup of the latest goings-on. Let’s do this!
If you’re a regular American Genius reader, then you’ve been following the rapid progress towards populating our streets with autonomous or “self-driving” vehicles. Just about every automotive and tech company is working on it, including companies like Apple that are staying hush-hush about their progress, even though everyone knows they’re up to something. With so much happening in the industry, we thought it was time for a roundup of the latest goings-on.
First of all, in order to truly understand autonomous cars, it’s important to know that not all autonomous cars are the same, and that the different types of vehicles require different levels of human intervention to operate. Some smart cars simply assist the driver, or only become autonomous for certain functions. Others still require human assistance, but only as a co-pilot, with the car taking on most of driving, allowing the passengers to look away and take their foot off the pedal. Fully autonomous cars require no human assistance whatsoever. In the future, various vehicles with different levels of autonomy will probably be used for different functions.
There seems to be a lot of energy towards developing autonomous vehicles for public transportation. Last year the United Kingdom began testing a driverless shuttle. The company who developed it, Oxbotica, believes their shuttle will become part of daily life in London by next year.
But innovators are developing autonomous vehicles for a lot of other purposes that are less obvious. And not all applications of autonomous technology will be used for getting people from one place to another. Uber has already tested delivering goods in autonomous semi-trucks. Meanwhile, for sheer entertainment alone, Roborace is working on a driverless alternative to NASCAR racing.
And why not driverless pizza delivery? In a partnership with Ford, Dominos began testing a pilot program to deliver pizza by autonomous vehicle. For now, customers will be greeted by a backup driver, a Ford engineer, and a Domino’s employee whose job is to get a sense of whether or not customers can adapt to this method of delivery. However, if all goes well, customers will soon be able to approach the vehicle and enter their phone number to open an insulated compartment containing their pizza.
Driverless cars won’t be limited to roadways – they are taking to the sky as well. If you still think that flying cars are a sci-fi fantasy, think again. Driverless drone taxis are already serving customers in Dubai, and last year, NASA signed a contract with Uber to develop the software that may one day manage traffic when urban dwellers start commuting by air en masse.
Uber may be one of the rising stars in the autonomous car field, but they received harsh criticism when autonomous vehicles they were testing in San Francisco were caught frequently endangering bicyclists by cutting into the bike lane before making a turn.
While there’s a lot of excitement (and growing consumer acceptance) around autonomous vehicles, they probably won’t become a major part of our daily lives until their makers can genuinely convince the public that they are safe.