Self Driving Cars: Is the future now?
Posted by: Lydia on 10/09/2020
For decades, self-driving cars (SDCs) have been seen as wildly futuristic technology, like the hoverboards seen in Back to the Future or the flying car from The Jetsons. While those other modes of transport remain purely fantasy, SDCs are becoming a reality.
Not only is creating an SDC in 2020 clearly possible, but many are already cruising roads around the world. That said, it's important to note that these vehicles are still in the development stage, navigating the trial and error processes they must complete in order to be cleared for regular use.
As we discuss below, SDCs are certainly the future of car technology — but that future is not quite here yet.
The car industry is the epitome of constant evolution. Success in the world of autos requires always pushing the envelope. This is unquestionably a wonderful element of the industry, but at times, it can prompt a gap between what manufacturers can create and what can be certified as safe for our roads.
Like a dragster or F1, there’s little doubt that SDCs today have the technological capability to drive around a race track in a controlled setting. But putting them in an everyday situation like a busy suburban road is a very different dynamic.
With that in mind, it’s reasonable to expect that SDCs will be a strong presence on our roads by the end of this decade, but for the time being, they are still working through their tweaking and testing phase.
The Potential for a Game Changer
Although the testing process that SDCs are currently undergoing is expected to continue in the months and years ahead, we can never be certain precisely what the future holds — especially when there could be an ‘Apple factor’ involved.
Several years ago, Apple apparently entered the car development arena with Project Titan. The project remains very mysterious, but it’s held to involve a car.
Specific details surrounding the car are still unclear, but it’s safe to say that given the California company’s affection for cutting-edge technology, it won’t be releasing a traditional petrol-powered vehicle. It's been reported that Apple has been granted a license by the U.S’s Department of Motor Vehicles to test SDC tech on public roads.
Considering Apple's record in design and debuts, an Apple car could be a real game-changer in the SDC community. Many car enthusiasts are excited at the prospect of Apple unveiling a big surprise in the not too distant future, and injecting a new energy into the SDC industry.
In addition, there’s always the possibility that a new player altogether will emerge in the market and drive a revolution in SDCs, just as Elon Musk and Tesla have in the world of electric cars, that will in turn speed up the timetable for mass release.
No One-Size Fits All
It's important to note that the global rollout of an SDC will be no easy task. This is due in part to the different cultural attitudes and road laws that exist around the world.
For an Aussie worker facing a long commute of a couple of hours home from the CBD in Sydney or Melbourne, the potential to get an SDC could be truly life-changing — allowing them to catch up on a Netflix show or perhaps just take a quick nap on their way home from work.
But someone working in an extremely dense city like New York, with constant dangers of pedestrians, bikers, and heavy traffic, may be slower to embrace SDCs as it means giving up full control of their vehicle.
Then, there’s lifestyle factors to consider. Once SDCs are easily available — whenever that may be — many gearheads will likely still prefer to drive a ‘normal’ car, just as many today still prefer driving a manual even though an automatic transmission is newer technology.
Finally, there is also the logistical challenge. For young cities with modern urban planning principles like a grid pattern for their CBD, adding a SDC into the mix seems more doable. On the other hand, the idea of an SDC navigating a city like Rome or London with many narrow streets and no clear organization is a far more complicated scenario.
This certainly doesn't mean that SDCs won't experience a successful global rollout in the future, but unique local considerations could mean it will be more of a staggered revolution as various communities come to grips with how to insert SDC’s safely into their existing road network.
This would be similar to how previous new automobile technologies have been rolled out, as both automatic transmissions and EVs are more popular in certain parts of the world than others.
Finding the Right Road
SDCs will surely not be a common sight on local roads before the end of the year. This may be a little disappointing for enthusiastic car fans to hear, as 2020 had previously been cited as a target date for the vision of the SDC to be realised.
With technology this complex, it's not surprising that it will take a bit of extra time until we see commercially available SDCs, especially when taking into account the widespread disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. SDCs will need to be both super cool and very safe, and getting this combination right means that although we have to wait a little longer for it, the future really will be fantastic when it does arrive.
When do you think self-driving cars will become commonplace on our roads? Let us know in the comments below: