Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Race for Autonomy Speeds Up

The goal of a fully autonomous self-driving car is being achieved with mixed results. Google has been leading the autonomy project with Tesla as their biggest competitor. Google has been developing its car for seven years and has logged over 1.5 million miles while Tesla cars have accumulated 130 million miles.

Singapore first
The news that a fully autonomous taxi service has been launched in Singapore came as a surprise as the name behind the cars is relatively unknown. nuTonomy has beaten taxi giants Uber and Lyft to become the first service to offer autonomous driving to the public.

nuTonomy is still in the testing stage where riders have to be invited to ride as part of the ongoing research. Nevertheless, this is a bold move seeing as it is that Google has been reluctant to put roll out its driverless car on a mass scale despite having seven years of research.

Other players
Uber and Lyft have been racing to provide driverless cabs with a goal of major cost cutting. Uber has planned to introduce the driverless car service by end of August 2016. Not to be left behind is Ford. The car maker plans to provide driverless cars on a mass scale with an eye on the demand by these taxi services. Ford has said this could be a reality by 2021.

The concept of a driverless car is yet to be fully comprehensible to the market. Fears of fatal accidents are yet to be fully allayed. This is more so after a fatal crash by a Tesla autonomous vehicle in 2015. Tesla said the technology was still in beta testing which raised the question on whether driverless car makers can make a car that is fully able to replace human judgment. Other fears have been on the malfunction of the car software. Given that computers crash frequently, what makes a car computer better? The prospect of getting the blue screen of death while doing 60 mph is a scary thought.

Hackers showed that it is possible to hack into car computers after a Jeep model was hacked into wirelessly in 2015. How safe would be a driverless car from a hacker with malicious intent?

The future
14 car makers have submitted 111 cars for approval to drive on Californian roads. There are also serious efforts in Europe by car makers such as Volvo. Singapore and Japan lead the push in Asia. Experts say driverless cars could be seen on the roads as early as 2020. Like any other idea, it is a development whose time has come.

1. http://www.extremetech.com/tag/self-driving-cars
2. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/self-driving-cars
3. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/615568b7668b452bbc8d2e2f3e5148e6/worlds-first-self-driving-taxis-debut-singapore

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