The race to get rid of human drivers
The date on when they will be fully deployed may vary, but companies in China and the US are pushing hard to put autonomous or self-driving vehicles on the road, Paul Welitzkin reports from New York.
Simply put, it’s scary: A piece of mobile steel machinery weighing thousands of pounds operating without the guidance of a human. But autonomous or self-driving vehicles, once confined to the minds of science-fiction writers and readers, may be close to becoming a reality.
“We are likely to see autonomous cars that drive at low speeds by 2021 or 2022,” said Xavier Mosquet, a senior partner in the Boston Consulting Group’s automotive sector and the head of the firm’s Detroit office, in an interview. “You already have Google cars that are reasonably autonomous in San Francisco and there are also experiments in Tokyo and Singapore.”
Thirteen companies have been given permission to test autonomous vehicles on the roads of California. China’s Chongqing Changan Automobile Co said in April it completed a 1,200-mile trip from Chongqing to Beijing testing a self-driving car as part of its campaign to produce highly automated vehicles.
They don’t drink. They don’t do drugs. And they don’t run red lights.
But self-driving vehicles may be able to cut road accidents, save lives and billions of dollars in the costs of those accidents – and billions lost to traffic congestion.
In the US, numerous groups support the self-driving technology, including Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and those who see them as an answer for disabled who cannot drive, but there are opponents who say the safety of driverless cars has not been proved.
Xavier Mosquet, a senior partner in the Boston Consulting Group’s automotive sector and the head of the firm’s Detroit office, says autonomous vehicles and advanced safety technology could cut the US auto-accident rate of more than 6 million and 33,000 fatalities every year by 90 percent and save about $900 billion in direct and indirect costs. Those fewer accidents, fewer injuries and fewer fatalities could have a major impact on insurance companies.
The self-driving vehicles also may reduce traffic congestion and lead to higher levels of productivity. In theory, selfdriving cars should be able to travel at higher speeds and closer to other cars without having to worry about hitting another vehicle. This could ultimately trim the time spent traveling, while increasing productivity since people won’t actually be operating a car.
In 2014 Americans lost $160 billion to traffic congestion and that is expected to increase to $192 billion by 2020 according to a study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and global traffic company INRIX.
A survey in 2014 by Peking University’s National Development Research Institute showed that traffic congestion in Beijing costs the city up to 70 billion yuan ($10.78 billion) yearly.