It’s not so much a question of if, but when autonomous cars will hit the roads. With Google, Apple, and Tesla investing heavily in the industry, the integration of the technology into our everyday lives is inevitable. That future got a little bit closer earlier this year, as one autonomous car company took their driverless tech on a road trip.
The United Kingdom-based company Delphi managed to modify an Audi Q5 SUV to drive autonomously from the west to east coast of America. The journey of nearly 3,400 miles (5,471 km) took the car nine days, starting out on March 22. With a driver sitting behind the wheel and traveling in convoy, it managed to deal with roundabouts, bridges, roadworks, tunnels, and aggressive drivers as it crossed the continent through mountains, heat and rain.
Traveling through 15 different states, it was fully automated for 99% of the drive, with a human only taking over for a 50 mile (80 kilometer) stretch when they hit a particularly confusing patch of road works. Equipped with six long-range radars, four short-range radars, three vision-based cameras, six light detection and ranging devices, and a whole host of other technological tricks, the engineers found that the cameras occasionally malfunctioned when the sun was low in the sky. They also noted that they would need to further train their cameras to account for variations in lane markings—especially those that are faded, marked with raised bumps, or differently colored. Apart from that, it cruised along.
The scene seems to be set for driverless cars to feature more and more in our everyday lives. And it appears that the public are ready for it too. A recent survey carried out by The Boston Consulting Group of 1,500 Americans showed that 55% of people were “likely” or “very likely” to buy a semi-autonomous car, whilst 44% said that they would, in ten years time, buy a fully autonomous one.
Interestingly though, whilst safety was consistently ranked near the top of the reasons given for why they might be interested in buying a driverless car, it was joined by a reduction in insurance premiums and an increase in productivity whilst the car drives. So it would seem that whilst efficiency and safety might be the outcome of the major uptake of driverless cars, as always it’s the cost to the wallet that will be driving it.