Driving to the Future

Before reading, check out Google's self-driving car promo.

Fully autonomous driving has always been the goal of our project because we think this could improve road safety and help lots of people who can't drive.

I believe that in a couple generations (perhaps my grandkids?) we will have cities where all traffic is autonomous. We can do this today, technically at least. As Google cleverly has shown, we can build self-driving cars today. They work, they are safe, and they use technologies that have been available for the past decade. Alas, the decision to allow these cars in our cities is still a couple decades away. The underlying problem is not the technology, is how to perform a smooth transition to this new reality. This is the real challenge for the broad adoption of self-driving cars.

Although we have the technology to build self-driving cars today, we cannot let them roam freely. Can you imagine the chaos if we allowed autonomous driving cars in a city like New York? Or in London? Or Tokyo?

The transition from the current human-driven model to a future AI-driven one will be complicated, cumbersome and... slow. The real caveat for mixing autonomous cars with our own is not the former's artificial intelligence, it's us. Humans. While autonomous vehicles follow a strict set of heuristics for traffic rule processing (and landscape analysis, and many other variables), humans are prone to circumventing these rules. Accidents do happen.

Autonomous cars cannot prevent other drivers from having strokes while driving and crashing in traffic. Autonomous cars cannot avoid drunk drivers from changing lanes. Autonomous vehicles cannot predict the erratic behaviour of most drivers. Sometimes we drive angry, sometimes we cross red lights, sometimes we are so relaxed that we miss a STOP sign. These incidents occur and, fortunately, only in a minority of situations, the outcome is an accident. Can autonomous cars, no matter how "intelligent" they are, handle these slightly abnormal scenarios

With currently available technologies, we can build an entire city, brick by brick, that only allows self-driving cars. This is possible, but not feasible. Hence, we have to progressively transform our cities to accommodate this new form of transportation. We can start with public transportation systems, or maybe just small neighbourhoods or suburban areas...

There are numerous options and available plans. Whatever the path, it will be great to watch another new technology unfold and completely change our lives.

Pedro Lopes
Aveiro, Portugal