For a while now I’ve been talking about the fact that autonomous vehicles – meaning driverless – are not going to be happening for a while…a long while! In fact, my best projection before we see a driverless truck on the roads is in the 2035-2040 range. (At times, I think is may be optimistic.) In any event, I sometimes feel that I’m the only the luddite in the room, with all the excitement and promises of driverless vehicles within the next few years. In fact, as you probably know, UBER is testing driverless taxi cabs in Pittsburgh. (This does irk me as a Cleveland Browns fan, but that’s for another blog!) Of course, what they’re testing has a driver in it…just in case… and has a sensor array on its roof that looks like something like the gun turret out of bad science fiction movie. Of course, that thing can’t be cheap so I’m not expecting to see one in my garage anytime soon. (Plus, the lack of aerodynamics has to kill the fuel mileage!) Still, I stick to my predictions…no driverless trucks for commercial use while my CDL is still valid! (Sorry, Elon.)
Like I said, sometimes this makes me feel like the luddite in the room.
(What’s a luddite? Good question…probably should have started the blog with this. According to dictionary.com, a luddite is “someone who is opposed or resistant to new technologies or technological change.” Obviously, I’m not opposed to either…I just think it’s not going to happen as fast as many feel it will. So, I guess that kinda makes me a luddite – at least as far as driverless goes.)
But, now I don’t feel so alone.
Christopher Mims, in the Sept. 25, 2016 Wall Street Journal penned (alright, typed) an article entitled “Self-Driving Hype Doesn’t Reflect Reality.” In this article, he raises questions about all the claims around self-driving technology being available in the very near future. “Ford Motor Co, BMW AG, Volvo Car Corp. and Lyft inc. say they will product full autonomous vehicles by 2021 or sooner. Tesla Motors, Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk…says the technology will be here within 24 months.” Twenty-four months? Really?
Mims goes on to note: “To many insiders, these claims are largely hype. They’re not false, but they abuse the terms “autonomous vehicle” and “self-driving,” which evokes images of hopping into a car, entering a destination and disappearing into sleep, food or our phones.” His article continues to quote some pretty knowledgeable people who indicate that the technology is not really ready and it’s a good 15-20 years before we get to the driverless car. (Yes! Vindication, sweet vindication!) But the real key is in terminology – “…it is all about how you define “autonomous” and “self-driving (or driverless).” Self-driving cars may exist earlier, but there will be a lot of prerequisites which may limit their use to areas where exact mapping of routes are available or speeds are limited for select situations. In other words, more advancing autonomous applications that may let the driver off the hook in select situations, but will likely need a driver to comeback sooner or later. This reinforces some of the comments I’ve made regarding the pathway to driverless vehicles is built on increasing autonomy through advancing driver assistance systems.
Bottom line, driverless vehicles will come…but it’s still going to take a good, long while. And, it will happen in stages – which will require a driver to be part of the equation. We’re getting there, just not as fast as everyone may think or like. But, we’re still advancing and this still means great things are coming for improving safety for our fleets, drivers and fellow road users.
And, just as significant, at least from my perspective: I’m not the only luddite in the room – now there’s at least two of us!
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