Will Driverless Vehicles Mean the End of Bad Driving (and your Road Rage)?

Most drivers assume the same thing: everyone else on the road is a terrible driver. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. But, if you spend enough time behind the wheel, it’s easy to start believing that many people don’t know what they’re doing out there on the road.

Driving often involves responding to unexpected situations, thanks to someone else deciding to throw safety to the wind. On top of that, many other factors you can’t control, like weather patterns, infrastructure damage, and traffic conditions, can all result in situations that force you to engage your cat-like reflexes.

That’s part of the reason why most Americans still don’t trust driverless cars. There’s reason to believe the artificial intelligence (AI) that governs autonomous vehicles isn’t sophisticated enough yet to handle the vast array of scenarios it could potentially encounter on the road. Although driverless cars are expected to decrease the number of collisions and the resulting auto accident injuries that occur each year, there are still kinks to be worked out.

It’s also worth noting that technical limitations currently make it difficult to equip all vehicles with this type of software. Add failed business partnerships into the mix (like Tesla potentially abandoning Nvidia), and it’s easy to see why AI’s shortcomings have kept driverless cars more or less off our highways for now.

AI’s Not Just for the Robots Taking Over Our World

AI isn’t confined to the world of the Terminator movies anymore. Odds are good that you’ve used products equipped with AI in your daily life, even if you didn’t realize it.

However, many experts believe that driverless cars will serve as a tangible “gateway product” for people who might otherwise be skeptical of AI. Getting into an autonomous vehicle requires trusting the AI to make the right decision in potential life-or-death scenarios. That’s much more serious than trusting an online shop’s AI chatbot to recommend the right pair of shoes for your taste.

That said, according to a 2016 report, the rise of autonomous cars will play a big role in changing the overall public perception about AI. If they operate safely and reliably on a large scale, people who may have once distrusted the technology will likely reconsider their position.

Driverless Car Development is a Corporate Free-for-All

Technological innovations usually arise when demand for them appears. These days, we have pocket-sized computers stronger than those used to send astronauts to the moon. Businesses developed the technology because others demanded it.

As an increasing number of automotive companies seek to develop autonomous cars, more tech companies have focused on creating the AI they’ll need to safely navigate everything from rural country roads to the nightmare that is New York City during rush hour.

This has resulted in a series of partnerships, acquisitions, and related corporate trends. In 2016, GM bought Cruise Automation. Ford is helping produce driverless cars for Lyft. Tesla is getting into the habit of abandoning partners that don’t meet its needs – if Elon’s not happy, nobody’s happy.

Additionally, the companies that are successfully producing driverless car tech, like LIDAR systems and cameras, are setting the price points at a level that’s inaccessible to the average consumer. The systems that will allow self-driving vehicles to run safely are an additional cost on top of the price of a new car. So that means your $30,000 vehicle could end up costing you somewhere in the range of $200,000.

In the long run, the market is likely to resemble fintech. Startups will merge with bigger companies, leveraging one another’s’ resources to create safe vehicles at a lower price point. Luckily, this collaborative spirit is also likely to trigger major improvements in AI. By working together, specialists will come up with unique solutions that make AI cheaper and more reliable than ever.

Putting Your Life in the Hands of AI

Even if you’re the type of person who suspects that every other driver on the road lacks any intelligence, you might still be wary of everyone else handing over their keys to a system run by artificial intelligence.

Silicon Valley players are optimistic about this technology, but that’s to be expected. The average driver, on the other hand, may still have their doubts.

The companies developing these vehicles still have hurdles to overcome before they can expect everyone to happily embrace autonomous cars. Proving the AI is reliable may be the main one, so 2018 will be a crucial year. If they can develop AI that sufficiently convinces the average person they should trust it, sharing the road with driverless cars may become a reality sooner rather than later. Time will tell.

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