It seems inevitable that robotic, driverless vehicles will be navigating roads in the not-too-distant future. The benefits are clear — vehicles kitted out with sensors in every direction can monitor changing conditions in a way we humans just can't copy. And a robot can react in a fraction of the time it takes our comparatively slow nervous system to kick into gear. If designed properly, driverless cars could reduce accidents, injuries, death and traffic. It sounds like a dream (or maybe a nightmare if you hate the thought of giving up the wheel to a robot).
But while we can imagine this future, it will still take some time for it to get here. There are several legitimate concerns about driverless vehicles that must be addressed. If a driverless car is in an accident, who is to blame? Are autonomous vehicles secure from hacking attempts, or could someone get control of your car from a computer or even a mobile device? And because the autonomous technology is expensive, who will be able to afford a fully autonomous vehicle?
One answer to that last question might be transportation companies and other organizations. Perhaps the future of autonomous cars isn't in private ownership, but in robo taxis and buses. Rather than owning a personal vehicle, you'd rely on a service that would whisk a robo car to your location, pick you up and drop you off. You're even spared the awkward chit-chat you'd have to have with a human driver!
We're already seeing deployment of autonomous vehicles in some specific locations. Soon, as the video above discusses, San Ramon, California, will have the EZ10 electric, autonomous buses carrying people from one location in a large business park to another. It's not quite the same as hopping on a bus at a busy intersection on your way to work, but it's a start. And it's precisely these sort of scenarios that will teach us more about the benefits and challenges of autonomous vehicles. What we learn from this experience might help us reach that idealistic future of smooth traffic and no accidents.