Driverless Cars: Fear Not the New Frontier

2_ dtr_ BMW iNext interior There are two schools of thought about driverless cars: 1.) it’s terrifying, and 2.) it’s an exciting frontier.
Regardless of which school you belong to, get ready, because the autonomous vehicle beehive is buzzing.

We hear about how big auto companies like General Motors and Ford are investing in autonomy. But many other types of companies are working just as hard to make driverless cars a reality. In fact, this transformative effort requires the collaboration of many stakeholders, including government agencies like the National Traffic and Safety Administration, the Department of Transportation, and even possibly the Federal Communications Agency, academic and research institutions, auto companies, technology companies, and suppliers of computer software and hardware.

The stakes are high. Global management consulting firm, A.T. Kearney, predicts the global market will be around $560 billion by 2035. Next year it is expected to reach $52.5 billion. This is an economy that no self-respecting entity engaged in technology or transportation is going to miss.

Look, there’s so much going on it could make a spreadsheet weep. Google and Apple have been making news on it for a couple of years now. Google recently partnered with Fiat Chrysler to automate 100 Pacifica minivans. Ford, GM, and others have created subsidiaries to handle all of their advanced driver systems, autonomy, and connected vehicle projects. Mercedes has shown an autonomous concept and BMW has created a sub-brand called BMW iNext in alliance with technology companies Intel and Mobileye to create an open-standards-based platform that will bring self-driving cars to market. It’s a bit of a gold rush and no one wants to be left out.1_ dtr_ BMW iNext

On the receiving end, we hear from so many people that driverless cars are terrifying. Fear not. And here are a few reasons why:
The National Traffic and Highway Safety Administration has noted that highway deaths increased 7.2 percent to 35,000 from 30,000 between 2014 and 2015. That is the largest increase in 25 years and the statistics coming in for 2016 are even higher. Granted, there are more cars on the road because of cheap gas and improved economy, but that’s not the whole explanation. Distracted driving is a key factor and NHTSA claims that 94 percent of crashes can be tied to human error or choice. Humans repeat mistakes made by other humans, but automation learns and corrects from data collected through previous experience. Automation is going to make the highway safer.

And the automated highway is not going to happen overnight: It will roll out slowly. We are already partly automated and car companies are continuing to add more technology. You may already have lane departure warning, blind spot detection, front brake assist, rear brake assist, and other technologies on your current vehicle. All of those active safety features are just pieces of the automation puzzle.

With more than 250 million cars and trucks on U.S. highways now, how will automated vehicles incorporate into non-automated highways? There will be legislation and other gradual infrastructure changes. Automated cars might have dedicated lanes. The government will release the technology gradually. Right now the Society of Automotive Engineers has established five levels of automation from 0 — the driver does everything to 5 — the car does everything. In-between levels are what we will see for many years to come.

— Kate McLeod, Motor Matters

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2016

Manufacturer Photo: Under the banner of iNext, the BMW Group brings new forms of automated driving and digital connectivity together with a new generation of electric mobility, lightweight construction and trailblazing interior design that will set new standards for the customer’s mobility experience.

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