Driverless Technology Surges
Your Car Might Try to Kill You
Do you own a car? Do you like your car? Do you like driving your car?
Well, if you answered yes to all of the above, you're in luck... most people don't. At least, you certainly don't if you've ever spent multiple hours in traffic, slowly inching your way towards your destination.
Soon, hopefully, you'll be alleviated of the burden of having to drive to work... and quite a few of the world's largest automakers are trying to make this a reality.
Of course, they're getting a little help from the tech sector.
I know the idea of a self-driving car can be pretty outlandish, but the best innovations often start out with crazy scribbling on a napkin.
And believe me, there are some pretty outlandish ideas floating around right now that are quickly becoming reality...
Driverless Cars Might Be Programmed to Kill You
That's about as dramatic of a headline as I've seen regarding driverless technology this week.
Articles that claim anything like this are playing up the “ethical programming” that's going into many autonomous car designs.
It goes something like this: If your car is about to hit a group of children in the road and the only options are to sacrifice you by running into the wall on the side of the road to avoid them or to save you by running them over, which is better?
Posing these questions to computers is difficult but necessary for autonomous cars to be accepted on the wider market. If we're giving over all control to the vehicle, they will have to be able to make decisions that cause the least damage to everyone involved.
Tesla's limited Autopilot feature has already had some decisively excellent results, such as when it saved one driver from a crash with another driver who had made a very abrupt U-turn into the road.
On the other hand, people have done some dangerous things such as climbing into the back of the car to let the car take over entirely. It's these kinds of driver experiments that make authorities question the usability of autonomous driving designs.
However, with a little more caution and patience — Tesla's cloud-connected cars are actually learning to drive better as they go — these dangerous experiments could become no more dangerous than driving a car in the first place.
They could, in fact, make driving exponentially safer than it is today. (I'll still cross my fingers.)
Look, Mom, No Hands!
Certainly you've heard by now a little about Google's self-driving cars and their adventures on the roads.
Media outlets jumped on the few accidents these cars got into with real drivers, yet Google claimed the accidents were due to the real drivers not following the rules of the road.
More recently, word on the street is that a Google car was pulled over for driving too slowly and being too cautious for regular drivers.
The problem here isn't that the car doesn't know how to drive, just that it doesn't know how to handle the regular rule-breaking habits of real drivers.
This, however, actually bodes well for the regulatory approval of autonomous cars. Because they're programmed to do the right thing — according to laws, anyway — they won't be speeding down the highway at 90 MPH and taking the shoulder to get around people at rush hour.
Google is about to take this one step further...
Rather than just having a car that can drive itself, the mighty Google wants to design a car with less hardware so that it must drive itself.
This means there will be no steering wheel, no acceleration pedal, and no brake pedal — you won't have the ability to take control.
While this might sound scary, autonomous vehicles without human controls might be some of the safest options for the future of driving (if the company can perfect its sensor systems and improve the car's ability to function in relation to other cars).
Think about it: There will be no more accidents with other drivers because there will be no drivers, just the cars riding along their routes with passengers in tow.
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Timing is Everything
So if we're not going to be restricted from driving our own cars anytime soon, when can we expect to let the cars drive themselves when we don't feel like it?
Tesla, of course, has already started this trend by sending its Autopilot feature out to cars remotely.
However, the company has had to scale back on the autonomous abilities and hire some new programmers to work out the kinks and make the features a little safer.
CEO Elon Musk claims that the cars will be fully autonomous by 2020.
Google's autonomous cars are expected to be available to the public sometime between 2017 and 2020.
Nissan is designing something akin to a next-generation Leaf, its popular electric vehicle, which will have limited autonomous abilities in 2016 followed by a more advanced autonomous system in 2018. It will also be for sale, mostly autonomous, by 2020.
General Motors has a similar business plan in place, as it's currently testing a new semi-autonomous Cadillac vehicle that will be on the market next year. From there, GM expects to ramp up the autonomous abilities, estimating that by 2020, the car will mostly be in charge, and by 2025, the car will be entirely in control.
So in a mere five years, your world could be full of cars yet free of drivers... and there are even bigger innovations on the near horizon that could move this 2025 deadline even closer.
Whether that sounds fantastic or terrifying to you, it's already happening, and there's no turning back now.
Until next time,
A true insider in the energy markets, Keith is one of few financial reporters to have visited the Alberta oil sands. His research has helped thousands of investors capitalize from the rapidly changing face of energy. Keith connects with hundreds of thousands of readers as the Managing Editor of Energy & Capital as well as Investment Director of Angel Publishing's Energy Investor. For years, Keith has been providing in-depth coverage of the Bakken, the Haynesville Shale, and the Marcellus natural gas formations — all ahead of the mainstream media. For more on Keith, go to his editor's page.
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