With safety being the biggest concern for the viability of self-driving cars, taxis could be the ideal testing ground over the next five years.
Jeff Owens, chief technology officer and executive VP at Delphi Automotive, says that the largest barrier for self-driving cars will be legal issues. City governments can quickly adopt the legal framework for testing taxis, and its much faster than federal safety regulations.
“The first autonomous vehicles will probably be taxis,” Owens said. “That could happen in five years because the regulatory environment is a little easier. It takes between 5 and 8 years to significantly change national traffic regulation, but in cities or municipalities this change can take weeks, not years; the legal framework is much simpler if a vehicle is for hire rather than owner driven.”
Automakers are making huge strides forward in autonomous vehicle technologies, but there’s always the safety regulations and legal issues that can block finalizing the concepts into cars driven on roads. One example would be a vehicle being blocked by a cyclist in front and a double line in the middle prohibiting passing; it would require the car’s technology to make a decision that could go outside the laws.
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Owens thinks this challenge could be solved with powerful algorithms which would be able to peer ahead to make sure the coast is clear. “At the end of the day, technology won’t be the inhibitor, it will be the legal framework,” he said.
Owens said vehicle connectivity could be a bridge between current technologies and fully automated cars of the future. Connectivity allows cars to talk to each other and share data with algorithms playing its part.
“Vehicle control algorithms will be ready to take on all kinds of problems including that cyclist example,” Owens said. Cars like the Mercedes S class and the Audi Q7 already allow drivers to set the “auto pilot on the highway which allows hands-off driving.” The driver will still be keeping watch, but it offers the driver a more relaxed experience, Owens said.
Owens said Gothenburg in Sweden or Singapore in Asia might well be the first cities to try to ease heavy traffic density as an excuse to test for and allow self-driving cars. The biggest catch, according to Owens, is how much are consumers willing to pay for the new technology?
“The biggest question is, how much will consumers pay not to have a driver?” Owens said.