The New Race in Technology: Self-Driving Cars

08/17/2015 - 17:14

Kayla Matthews | @productibytes

Until recently, Google and Silicon Valley dominated efforts to make self-driving cars feasible and frequently seen. However, now many states are taking action to prove they think these high-tech modes of transportation could be the way of the future, and they aren’t in the mood to get left out.

What Some States Are Doing to Prepare

Many states are building testing grounds that are necessary for making sure autonomous cars are really road worthy.

Michigan, which already has its roots in the automotive industry, recently unveiled a 32-acre testing ground in Ann Arbor. The state has forked over $6 million to create a mock suburb, complete with building fronts, gravel roads and asphalt. The Ann Arbor test site has also secured $4 million more in funding from private backers.

In Virginia, state funding assisted with opening a Center for Automated Vehicle Systems at Virginia Tech University in 2013. Also, the northern part of the state has designated a 70-mile stretch of highway for testing purposes.

Like Virginia and Michigan, Florida is throwing its hat into the ring by building its own simulated suburban area outside of Florida Polytechnic University.

On the West Coast, California is taking the lead with regulation concerns and has said automakers must apply for a permit before testing their vehicles. So far, a total of seven manufacturers have been granted test permits including Audi, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and of course, Google.

An Invention on the Near Horizon?

At the start of the year, a senior-level Google executive helped stimulate fascination with and desire for self-driven vehicles by saying he envisioned them to be on the roads within five years given a minimum of regulatory red tape.

From the start, Google has worked with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when testing the cars. However, some auto manufacturers are already asking for regulations to be loosened, especially in relation to what's allowed on the front video screens in vehicles.

Currently, moving images, such as those associated with TV shows, are banned on front screens. However, Audi thinks that ban should be done away with. It argues engaging content could keep driverless car passengers alert in case they need to take over the wheel in an emergency. In California, Google’s cars all have drivers that remain at the ready if something goes wrong.

These Cars Could Help Avoid Driver Errors

Speaking of staying alert, there are 88 deaths per day on America's roads and some of them happen when people get tired or drive carelessly. Although self-driven cars won't eliminate fatal accidents, many people are hopeful they could make our roads a lot safer. Perhaps that's one reason why states are starting to get on board with this new technology in big ways.

Testing Is Going Well

Google believes self-driven cars will be safer and more efficient than their traditional counterparts. Safety does not seem to be in doubt, especially since the company has completed about 1.9 million miles worth of tests and had only 14 accidents across six years. It is important to realize that of those accidents, "not once has the self-driving car been the cause of the collision" per Chris Urmson the head of Google's self driving car division.

Earlier this summer in July, one of Google's driverless cars was involved in the first accident that caused injuries. It happened when Google's car was rear-ended by another vehicle causing the three passengers to have minor whiplash, but be permitted to return to work the following day.

Recently, Apple decided to step into the self-driving car market, as well. Documents have confirmed that Apple is seeking secure locations to test their secret car project. Specifically they are looking into GoMentum Station, the largest secure testing facility in the world, according to officials and The Guardian.

Apple’s seeming decision to become a competitor in the self-driving car market could spell trouble for Google and others. As with most Apple products, if the company decides to put the time and money into creating a self-driving car, consumers will embrace it.

The real appeal of self-driving cars will be clear if it turns out there’s a way to make them more affordable for the general public. They cost about $75,000 now, but talks have been underway to see if some of the country’s major auto manufacturers are interested in assisting with making these vehicles on a large scale to help bring down costs.

Getting people to trust these cars may be another remaining hurdle. However, the more that states continue testing and having successful results, the more likely people are to see that these automobiles are worthy advancements that have been carefully engineered.

The race for autonomous vehicles will be determined by companies abilities to leap past one final and determining hurdle. Can they gain the trust of the consumer and finish this race for technological glory, or is victory still the realm of man, not machine.