What does the future of transportation hold? Flying cars? Self-driving cars? An all-electric transportation world?
Of course, I think the latter is on the way, but I also think self-driving cars will be a great complement to electric cars and are another inevitable. Actually, two of the biggest cleantech leaders in the world, Elon Musk and Carlos Ghosn, are both aiming to bring the first “driverless” or “autonomous driving” vehicles to market.
I was just watching a very interesting Dassault Systemes* / CNBC video about self-driving cars about the topic that I think is worth a share. It includes more detail on ways that self-driving vehicles could be linked up to be more efficient, safer, and simpler to drive.
However, I also just spotted news that Google, long a leader in developing self-driving tech, is looking to use its expertise to build self-driving cars from the ground up. It is producing 100 to start things off. The picture at the top is one such car from Google. (Though, I have to admit it looks a bit like a Fiat 500.)
Here’s a bit from Google’s post yesterday:
Ever since we started the Google self-driving car project, we’ve been working toward the goal of vehicles that can shoulder the entire burden of driving. Just imagine: You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.
We’re now exploring what fully self-driving vehicles would look like by building some prototypes; they’ll be designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention. They won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal… because they don’t need them. Our software and sensors do all the work. The vehicles will be very basic—we want to learn from them and adapt them as quickly as possible—but they will take you where you want to go at the push of a button. And that’s an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people.
Interesting. Exciting. This seems like an excellent step into the future that will make our lives safer and easier.
TreeHugger‘s Lloyd Alter noted a year ago that the self-driving/autonomous car would be just as Google’s prototypes. Importantly, he also noted that this is much more than a technology swap:
The autonomous car will likely be shared, smaller, lighter, slower, and there will likely be about a tenth as many of them. Urban planners and theorists have to start thinking about this or we will screw it up again.
He also quotes Tim de Chant:
Self-driving cars are one of the biggest threats to the future of cities… As people’s commutes are freed up for other tasks, including work, they’ll stretch their daily trips, once again allowing them to live where they want. And as we’ve seen, people want to live where they have more space.
Could this be a step not forward but back, to an era when the emphasis was all about moving as many cars as possible as quickly as possible, rather than on creating better environments for humans that don’t rely so much on cars?
I think the big question is: do we want something because it’s new and cool or do we want something because it’s better? In the case of electric cars, they are both. In the case of self-driving cars, I agree that we need to be very careful how we plan around them, how we use them, and how we let them shape our world and lives.
*Disclosure: This articles was supported by Dassault Systemes