While many people think that Tesla was the first car company to come up with the idea, manufacturers have actually been toying with the concept of autonomous vehicles since the 1930s.
In 1939, an exhibit at the New York World’s Fair called “Futurama” envisioned a world 20 years into the future in which an automated highway system would guide autonomous vehicles. As with other technological advancements, the idea of self-driving cars would have to wait until our technology had caught up to our drive for innovation.
Self-driving vehicles are going to have a significant impact on all aspects of our lives. They have the potential to clean up our air (especially if the cars are electric) and make our commutes more enjoyable. (Wouldn’t it be nice to spend your commute time relaxing instead of screaming internally at other drivers?)
There are, of course, ethical and economic implications that we’ll need to sort out. For example, will self-driving vehicles replace public transportation and, therefore, negatively impact the lives of low-income populations? If two self-driving cars do, somehow, get into an accident, who is at fault? What will happen to all the displaced rideshare drivers who are suddenly out of work when their company buys a fleet of self-driving vehicles to replace them?
At the time of writing this book, these are some of the questions being debated when it comes to self-driving vehicles. One thing that is not really being questioned is the fact that, no matter what side you’re on, self-driving cars fueled by AI technology will make driving on the road significantly safer for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
Concerns About Road Safety
Every year, thousands of people are killed or injured in car accidents in the United States. The good news is that the number of fatal accidents has been declining somewhat steadily over the last few years.
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), in 2019, there were an estimated 38,800 deaths due to car crashes. This is a high number, but it is a decrease of two percent from 2018 when there were 39,404 deaths due to car crashes and four percent from 2017 when there were 40,231 deaths due to car crashes.
While 38,800 is arguably still too many people to lose to preventable car accidents, it is promising to see the steady declines in road fatalities. There are a few reasons we can attribute to this decline.
First, several cities are taking important steps to redesign high-crash areas in an effort to reduce the risk of crashes using what is known as a Vision Zero model. Vision Zero is a public safety strategy designed to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries. Sweden was the first country to implement it in the 1990s, and it has since been implemented across Europe and several major U.S. cities.
Secondly, ridesharing apps may be reducing the number of drunk drivers on the road, resulting in fewer substance-related accidents and fatalities. With a safe ride home at the tip of your fingers, there’s no excuse ever to drive home when you’re intoxicated. There has yet to be an extensive study done on the correlation between ride-sharing apps and drunk driving incidents, but the research that has been done so far points is promising.
Uber has been called “the first AI-first company” because it uses AI and machine learning in all aspects of its business. From matching riders with the right drivers to planning routes that are convenient for drivers who are ready to head home after a long shift, Uber relies on AI technology to run as a business.
Finally, we see a decline in driving fatalities thanks to advanced technologies that are making the road safer for drivers and pedestrians. As of the writing of this book, self-driving vehicles are not yet mainstream modes of transportation. However, many new vehicles now come equipped with safety features, such as backup cameras, lane departure warning systems, emergency braking, and adaptive headlights.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this book, I have experience working with AI to enhance safety features in cars and boats. Technology has continued evolving since my days working at the IoT company, and we are now on the cusp of having safe, driverless vehicles on the roads.