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.

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH -

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.

CAI MENG /CHINA DAILY PAUL WELITZKIN

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.

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