The driverless car revolution has been gaining traction and is now legal in three states. But there are both benefits and issues for this nascent driving revolution that consumer, lawmakers and companies involved in the industry need to address right now, Fortune reported.
Google’s self-driving car has logged over 300,000 miles with nary an accident, save for a fender bender when a human driver was steering the Toyota Prius in a parking lot. The car’s “brain” includes GPS and radar while the “eyes” consist of a 3-D mapping camera on the roof that tracks traffic signals, road lanes, obstacles and pedestrians in real time.
Another test for these post-space age transports was 2010’s VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge where four driverless vans made the 8,077-mile drive from Parma, Italy, to the World Expo in Shanghai.
The three states that have approved usage are Florida, Nevada and California, while Washington, D.C., is working on a bill to legalize them. All require an actual driver to be in the driver’s seat in case of an emergency or technological snafu.
Azim Eskandarian, director of George Washington University's Transportation Safety and Security Program, says that "the technology is here, but the cost needs to come down. In 10 or 15 years you'll see a lot more of these cars."
Benefits are many. An MIT Media Labs report stated 40 percent of gas consumed in cities is used to find parking spaces, something this technology might be able to address with software.
Americans spend on average 250 hours a year commuting by car and that time could be used working from computer-driven autos. Crashes should be minimized, perhaps saving many of the 30,000 deaths blamed on car accidents, according to AAA.
Trucks could convoy at 12-inch intervals, speeding at 100 mph in special lanes designed for that purpose. Richard Wallace, of the Center for Automotive Research, claimed self-driving trucks would save 15 percent to 20 percent in fuel efficiency and down time.
"No drivers, no stops for fuel and food, and no one sleeping overnight in the cab with the air conditioning running," he said.
The biggest bugaboo seems to be legal. In the event of an accident, who would the insurance companies and courts place the blame: the car manufacturer, the software designer, or the GPS company.
Last month Nissan unveiled a driverless version of its Leaf that could hit the market by 2015. GM, Ford and BMW are also tinkering with versions.
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