As big as cars re­plac­ing horses

Cape Times - - OPINION -

LAST week, a driver­less shut­tle bus was tested in Las Ve­gas as part of that city’s smart in­fra­struc­ture project. It had a mi­nor col­li­sion in the first hour with a hu­man-driven truck. De­spite this set­back, driver­less cars are here to stay and slated to be­come ubiq­ui­tous in the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture. This is be­cause the tech­nol­ogy be­hind au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles has hit a sweet spot. Not only are we close to mass pro­duc­ing driver­less cars, con­cerns re­gard­ing road safety, pol­lu­tion and ve­hic­u­lar con­ges­tion are near­ing tip­ping point.

For­tu­nately the so­lu­tion looks close at hand too, stem­ming from a con­flu­ence of elec­tric ve­hi­cles, driver­less cars and ride hail­ing apps such as Uber. Hu­man er­ror is re­spon­si­ble for the vast ma­jor­ity of road ac­ci­dents today.

En­ter driver­less cars that run on elec­tric­ity and can be booked through ride hail­ing apps. Con­ver­gence of these trends will spark a mo­bil­ity revo­lu­tion, com­pa­ra­ble to the one when au­to­mo­biles re­placed horse drawn bug­gies. Not only will they di­min­ish the need to ac­tu­ally own a car – cut­ting down ex­penses on main­te­nance, re­pair and park­ing – they will ra­tio­nalise traf­fic, re­duce or elim­i­nate traf­fic jams and ac­ci­dents, cut ur­ban pol­lu­tion and green­house gas emis­sions. They are the per­fect fit for smart ci­ties of the fu­ture where trans­porta­tion is seam­less, safe and ef­fi­cient.

How­ever, putting driver­less cars on the road also re­quires cre­at­ing the in­fra­struc­ture for them. Roads and high­ways need to be prop­erly equipped with sensors and charg­ing sta­tions. Ap­pro­pri­ate le­gal frame­works must be in place for con­sumer pro­tec­tion in the new au­ton­o­mous en­vi­ron­ment.

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