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  • Michael Shmilov

Autonomous Cars; Sooner or Later?

There is a lot of excitement around self-driving cars and for many good reasons.

  1. Self-driving cars are cool. Very cool.

  2. Self-driving cars can have a great effect on our economy (which has pros and cons).

  3. Self-driving cars can turn several private companies (such as Uber, Lyft, Gett, Yandex Taxi and more) into highly profitable businesses.

  4. Self-driving cars can save lives and reduce significant injuries.

  5. Self-driving cars can change dramatically the idea of owning a car and also the way we look at public transportation.

I think that the excitement is even bigger because we are starting to feel that it is getting closer. In fact closer than it seems.

How long should we wait?

@kateconger wrote yesterday this interesting item where she is raising a valid point brought by researchers - We Need To Be Okay With Self-Driving Cars That Crash, Researchers Say.

37,000 people died in car accidents in the US last year, but one specific death continues to make headlines. "Joshua Brown was the first person killed by an autonomous vehicle when his Tesla Model S collided with a truck while in Autopilot mode, and his crash launched a debate about the risks and rewards of allowing self-driving cars on the road." This debate raises a key question - how many fewer people would have to die in car crashes to make autonomous cars acceptable?

Lets look at the past, a similar debate took place in July 11, 1984 after a new order was signed by then-Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, requiring all vehicles to have driver’s side air bags or automatic seat belts by 1989 and passenger-side bags soon after. The new order followed a debate between air bag advocates and the auto industry, which objected to the cost and warned that they could harm people, particularly children. In 1997, 53 people — including 31 children — were killed as the result. At the same time, air bags also saved 842 lives (according to the traffic safety facts by the US department of transportation).

Air bags didn’t have to kill people, for example there were no child crash test dummies that might have shown the dangers of air bags to smaller passengers. But the usage of air bags taught everyone a lesson, automakers began installing less forceful devices and this eventually led to a rapid reduction in deaths. In 2003, NHTSA confirmed six deaths.

Today, with autonomous cars, the R&D as well as the testing is much more precise and detailed than back then, waiting for autonomous cars to be perfect before allowing them on public roads will lead to more overall deaths and injuries in the long run. As @kateconger wrote this "a mostly-good robot car still sucks less than a drunk or distracted person-car."

Waymo's autonomous car

Waymo announced a driverless test program

Waymo (Google) CEO John Krafcik announced that Waymo's autonomous cars have driven on public roads in Arizona with no human in the driver’s seat.

The test program began last month and Waymo hopes to start offering rides to the public soon. Waymo become the first company to deploy fully autonomous cars on public roads without a driver behind the wheel.

"When it comes to driving, experience is the best teacher" (quote taken from Waymo's website).

The tests continue, the technology is progressing and we are starting to accept the idea of sharing the road with self-driving cars. The change is already here, our cars already moved from monitoring and alerting to making decisions and taking actions for us. 

Autonomous driving does not mean there should be no driver in the car. We can start testing the self-driving capabilities at scale already now, and gather more and more data in order to keep improving the capability.

The sooner, the better. The economy will go through drastic changes but many lives will be saved.

#Autonomous #SelfDriving #Waymo

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