Robot cars to rule road
THE rise of the machines is here, with self-driving cars to hit Perth roads in the next few years and autonomous vehicles to outnumber conventional cars within three decades.
And they’ll slash the road toll while also busting congestion and allowing speed limits to be raised.
That’s the prediction of one of the world’s leading road safety experts, Silicon Valley-based Mark Rosekind, who is the keynote speaker at the Australasian Road Safety Conference starting at Crown Perth on Tuesday.
“Science fiction is becoming reality. We are in a mobility revolution — the most transformative period in transportation in the last 100 years. It’s like the horse and buggy to the internal combustion engine,” said Dr Rosekind, who led reform in the US national transport department under Barack Obama before being head-hunted to be the chief safety innovation officer for cutting-edge technology company Zoox.
Zoox, now valued at $1.5 billion, is at the forefront of developing self-driving vehicles using robotics and artificial intelligence.
Dr Rosekind said the next generation of self-driving cars would allow “drivers” to eat a meal, sleep or read during a trip.
Cars would “talk to each other” and cut congestion because they would travel at much higher speeds and travel very close to each other without the risk of a crash.
“We will see fully selfdriving cars on the road in the next couple of years and entire countries or cities (using them) in 20-30 years,” Dr Rosekind said, adding that Perth would likely be one of them.
As well as reducing congestion, autonomous vehicles would save lives, he said.
It is a topic close to his heart, after his father, a San Francisco motorcycle policeman, was killed in the line of duty by a driver who ran a red light.
“Ninety-four per cent of crashes are because of some kind of human choice or error. Self-driving cars will not speed or get drunk or get drowsy or make bad decisions,” he said.
“Too many lives are being lost. Too many people are being hurt. The road toll is a global epidemic and the numbers are going up.”
But he said autonomous vehicles were not a road safety “magic bullet” and “we cannot give up tried and true safety measures like strong laws, education or visible enforcement”.
General Motors' director of autonomous vehicle integration Scott Miller said this week that self-driving cars were about 10 to 15 years away.
But he said GM was aiming to have a fleet of self-driving ride-share cars to compete with Uber and taxis within the next year or two.
More than 600 delegates will attend the three-day safety conference.