Ever heard of a car being driven by no one? If not, here’s the first place you should here it from. There are many large companies like Google, Uber, Audi who are working on incorporating self-driving features into automobiles. The most advanced models can speed up, slow down, make turns, change lanes and automatically perform all other driving tasks without any intervention from a human operator whatsoever.
Now, thanks to latest technology, driverless cars are actually poised to reach our roads within the next decade. The governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, paved the way for the world’s first driverless taxis on public roads last month. At a joint press conference with Uber, Ducey unveiled an executive order calling for pilot programmes of self-driving vehicles “regardless of whether the operator is physically present in the vehicle or is providing direction remotely.” Many states in the US have permit autonomous vehicle tests. However, it is mandatory that a human has to be present in the driver’s seat in case of an unexpected mishap or technical failure.
Some auto companies like Tesla are on their way to build ‘autopilots’ which help motorists avoid accidents. However Uber decided that they want to eliminate human beings as drivers. The CEO of Uber, Mr. Travis Kalanick had always wanted robots to replace human drivers in his ride-share service. Last year, in a conference Mr. Travis said that Uber could be inexpensive in future because customers won’t have to only pay for the car-they will have to pay for the ‘other dude’ in the car. If by other dude, he means robot or nobody at all, then hats off to technology! However, the Arizona experiment has implications that go far beyond taxi drivers. According to Uber, driverless cabs will slash the cost of hiring a taxi and bring in a new era of personalized transport in cities.
Uber is not the only company that would prefer to let self-driving vehicles fend for themselves, however. Volkswagen-Audi and Zoox, a Silicon Valley robo-taxi start-up, both unsuccessfully lobbied Californian officials to remove the requirement for a safety driver in their test vehicles. Google also has a Google X division that is responsible for Google’s self-driving vehicles, which can now be spotted in Mountain View and Austin, Texas. Sarah Hunter, head of policy at Google X, said that few accidents involving Google’s driverless vehicles have been reported.
But why has Uber chosen Arizona even though there are other places available? Arizona promises to be a much friendlier state for such high-tech companies. Uber wrote in a recent blog post, ‘Arizona has been a great home for Uber.’ The governor Doug Ducey championed ridesharing regulations that allowed Uber to operate legally in Arizona, and Uber opened a customer service center in Arizona in June.
What does NHTSA have to say about this entire driverless cars? The NHTSA was not able to comment on Arizona’s roadmap for legalizing driverless taxis for public use. However its policy paper states that ‘NHTSA does not recommend that states authorize the operation of self-driving vehicles for purposes other than testing at this time. Self-driving vehicle technology is not yet at the stage of sophistication or demonstrated safety capability that it should be authorized for use by members of the public for general driving purposes.’