Google’s Self-Driving Car will soon be available to the public, and with a bigger impact than you might think
I love driving. Absolutely love it. That’s why I’m a bit torn on the push for self-driving cars that’s come up recently. If it takes hold, which it most definitely could, it has the potential to completely upend US driving culture in a very short amount of time. Imagine it – you’re zooming down the freeway getting nasty glares from people looking up from their smartphones at the jerk endangering their lives with his manually driven car. It’s not far-fetched. With Google’s recent announcement to release a hundred self-driving prototypes in the Bay Area as early as this Summer, it’s going to be here a lot sooner than you might think. The implications go far beyond simple novelty.
It would be a mistake to assume I’m not impressed – what Google has developed is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Their self-driving cars utilize stereo cameras, sonar, radar, and lasers to scan their immediate surroundings and react accordingly. The software used by the cars can account for jaywalkers, a bicyclist’s hand-signals, and even construction workers holding up signs.
Google’s track-record is surprisingly impressive as well when it comes to safety. As of this month, Google’s fleet of automated cars has accumulated more than 700,000 autonomous miles with only 11 minor accidents, none of which were the fault of the self-drivers (according to Google). To put it in perspective, that’s the equivalent of driving around the circumference of the Earth a little more than 28 times, or across the United States 250 times.
While the cars seem to have no problem navigating ideal conditions, it’s said they sometimes get confused on rainy or snow-covered roads. They can also have a difficult time deciphering dangerous debris from non-dangerous debris, occasionally causing them to veer unnecessarily when erring on the side of caution. Google has stated that it’s currently working on ironing out these kinks.
Google’s automated prototypes are small two-seaters that resemble what I imagine an egg would look like if it were laid by a panda. They’re currently programmed to top out at a safe 25 miles per hour and have an attachable steering wheel as well as pedals in case manual operation becomes necessary.
Assuming they don’t become self-aware and revolt against us, the project’s director, Chris Urmson, expects the self-driving car to be available to the public by 2020.
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While the average consumer may eventually have an automated car of their own, the potential for self-driving “robo taxis” could be incredibly lucrative to those with the infrastructure to handle it. Rideshare company Uber recently announced its plans to eventually go driverless after snatching up around 50 leading automation experts from Carnegie Melon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center. The move didn’t come without a bit of resentment from those that didn’t make the cut.
Uber’s move towards automation is said to pose a threat to Google (one of its major investors) who many believe has plans to create a taxi fleet of its own. Google has yet to confirm such intentions.
The Revolution will be Automated
Driving culture aside, there’s a pretty major ramification to consider. In an article I’d written a while back, I’d mentioned the various jobs most likely to be replaced by machines. What was on top? You guessed it, professional drivers. We’ve been hearing a big stink from taxi drivers complaining about ride-share startups like Uber and Lyft flooding the streets with any for-hire caddy with 4 doors and a clean record. But those who live by the steering wheel also die by the steering wheel. With Uber’s venture into the fully automated taxi service (alongside a few others), we may be witnessing the most short-lived job market we’ve ever seen.
The issue doesn’t stop with ridesharing. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the amount of chauffeurs and taxi drivers in the US at around 233,000, the American Trucking Association estimates that there are around 3.5 million professional truck drivers across the nation. It’s too early to say for certain, but they might want to start bulking up their resumés.
As with many innovations we come up with, we’re betting that with each wave of new technology comes a wave of new jobs. We’ve fared pretty well in the past when it comes to replacing human work-hours, but it still bears asking if we’ve ever automated anything in such a short time-frame and on such a grand scale. Technology is amazing, but we must always be aware of the consequences.
Am I being paranoid? I really hope so.