Driving is inherently dangerous. So much so, that thousands of people reflexively exclaim 'drive safely!' to anyone grabbing the wheel to go anywhere.
While there will be other benefits, saving lives will be the number one driver and strongest push for autonomous cars. With that kind of incentive and hundreds of brilliant minds mapping out the future of a driverless America, it's a topic that will only intensify over time.
But what are the primary obstacles? Car culture. Personal property rights. Technology. Infrastructure. Legislation. Potential job loss. That's just calling out a few. How will self-driving cars overcome these obstacles? Is it even possible?
We surveyed OneFire leaders on how soon (if ever) we can expect nationwide adoption of self-driving cars. Here are their responses:
Who: Jason Parkinson, OneFire VP and COO
How Far: 10 years
Biggest Obstacle: Infrastructure
Self-driving cars are awesome and it’s no doubt that, eventually, they will replace the cars we have today. However, my concern with nationwide adoption is our aging infrastructure. Sure, the testing they’re doing in California is going great! They have pretty great roads in CA, with no damage from salt, snow plows, etc. Once you get to a place like the Midwest, there are many other things to take into consideration. Another thing to consider is their use in mixed weather environments. If you consider the number of people who have to park outside and the inclement weather that their cars are constantly exposed to, I’m curious to see how well the technical equipment holds up and how well it works, in general, when cameras are being blocked by snow and ice.
The other thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is how “safe” this can really make our driving if the majority of consumers still have a car they have to physically control. Looking out my office window right now, I’ve seen 3 cars from the 90’s driving by and even a classic car from the 60’s! If automobiles are still around from such a long time ago, the likelihood of the roads becoming a safer place becomes more and more distant.
Who: Spencer Cree, OneFire CTO
How Far: 4 years
Biggest Obstacle: Cars with Drivers
Even as self driving cars progress in the technology they use and their ability to drive fully autonomous, there will always be other cars on the road with real human drivers. Human drivers can be very unpredictable and there is only so much a self-driving car can do to avoid their inability to drive safely. Autonomous cars are programmed to follow the law to the letter, whereas human drivers will often bend the laws to fit them. This causes a pain point for the self driving car as they try and determine what exactly another car may be attempting.
Who: Mark Nickerson, Director of OneFire Media
How Far: 10 Years
Biggest Obstacle: Public Confidence in Safety and Reliability
I think that driverless cars will be on the roads within the next 10 years. The adoption period will be protracted as the public slowly gains confidence in safety and reliability. Some of the sensors are already being built into newer model cars in anticipation, and most car manufacturers are testing their own models. I could envision that service utilization could possibly lead consumer utilization; especially if the technology adds too much cost to the price tag of a new car.
I also think that utilization may be driven more by “need” than by “want”. In our society, the number of elderly is increasing as medical technologies help to extend lives. This class of individual will need to be taken to medical appointments, pharmacies, grocery stores and community or social gatherings. A cutting edge service such as Uber could aid investment in vehicles that can be dispatched to pick-up and drop-off these people – safely and reliably.
Thinking of the elderly population, some may lose their drivers licenses if their ability to drive diminishes. The option of owning a driverless car can keep these people on the road, but in a way that does not endanger others on the road.
I have not seen statistics on this, but I can imagine that a driverless car might get better gas mileage than a manually-operated car. People drive according to their own biases and schedules, so they may accelerate quickly, and brake at the last moments while approaching a stop. Driverless technologies are likely, by design to accelerate and brake in a more fluid manner that may greatly conserve fuel. If this proves to be true, both elected leaders and consumers may put pressure on wider adoption. Reduction in the numbers of traffic fatalities and accidents will also be a positive factor.
The on-road trucking shipping and delivery industries may also become early adopters. If traffic safety is proven, insurance companies could exert pressure on the adoption of the technologies. This will allow drivers to take required rest breaks while still keeping the cargo on the road, and on schedule. Reduction in semi-trailer accidents from dozing drivers will reduce insurance claims from the owners of the cargo.
Who: Rachel Hensold, OneFire Project Manager
How Far: 5 years
Biggest Obstacle: Customer Buy-in
I think that getting humans to buy-in to self-driving cars will be the biggest obstacle. As humans beings, we like to have control of our days, our lives, and our destinies. I think getting our heads wrapped around sitting in a car that had no driver would, psychologically, be the biggest obstacle. I think in order for the nation to be “okay” with giving up this control, we'd need to be able to fill the time inside a car with other activities - such as work. We already try to text, Facebook, or check our email while we drive. Or possibly, have a moon roof that spans the entire roof of the car. This would allow the rider to take in all the sights while the car drove.
We want to hear from YOU. What do you think is the biggest obstacle for self-driving cars? Comment below: