Three years ago while on a work trip to Germany, I received my first experience with accident-avoidance technology at Continental A.G.'s test track site near the firm's headquarters in Hanover.
It was intriguing, but I also thought it was one thing for it to work on a test track, and quite another to implement in real street conditions.
Now, however, talk is everywhere not only about potential breakthroughs such as those Conti was touting, but also with fully automated vehicles that—taken to the extreme—could make driving obsolete. While driver-less cars may be decades off, some heavyweights are aiming to make this a reality.
Google, of course, is among the most visible, but major car makers aren't sitting on the sidelines. General Motors, for example, has formed a joint venture with Lyft to develop a national network of self-driving vehicles. With those projects moving forward, several issues must be considered.
My first thought was the biggest obstacle may be that people really like to drive. At least I thought they did. Apparently millennials are driving less than any other generation. In fact, just 76.7 percent of those ages 16-44 have a driver's license, compared to 92.7 percent in 1983.
The thought of automated vehicles also is new territory in terms of laws and regulations. California wants steering wheels mandated and a licensed driver to be mandatory in all vehicles. NHTSA is on record as saying it doesn't want to stifle innovation, and it even made the surprising ruling that the artificial intelligent system piloting the self-driving Google car could be considered “the driver.”
Which brings up the prospects of hacking. It seems a ridiculous thought at first, but is a real concern when taking into account all the supposedly secure systems that have fallen victim to hackers.
Even the insurance industry will see repercussions. Moody's said that short term, accident-avoidance technology could reduce accidents and boost profits for insurers. Long term, though, autonomous cars may result in lower premiums and, consequently, lower profits for the insurance industry.
Lower premiums? That's something I'll believe when I see it.
Meyer is editor of Rubber & Plastics News. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bmeyerRPN.