Jurvetson Google driverless car trimmed
Autonomous vehicles have been undergoing research and development for years and gained interest with the movie “Minority Report” where people just step into their cars and ignore the steering wheel while technology took them to their destinations.

After much testing, current driverless cars use sensors placed around the outside of the vehicle to detect objects around it. Radar allows the driverless cars to “talk” to one another, understanding the distance apart and are able to brake or accelerate depending on the environmental conditions around it.

Many people are excited for this advanced technology in order to decrease pile ups, rush hour, accidents, fatalities, and overall, avoid human error.

Congress Test (Driverless) Drives

Although companies like Google and their driverless cars are a welcome innovation to the general public, the legalities and dependency of them makes Congress hesitant. Carnegie Mellon University, the school that is funded for driverless car research by the National Science Foundation and the Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation, brought one of their prototypes to Congress for test drives.

Congressmen and women got to ride the driverless car and experience the advancements for approximately 6 hours before the car overheated and a component failed to start while parked. What looks like a fail is actually a step in the right direction as Congress is a large motivator when it comes to passing new laws and regulations. The part itself was a quick fix and an issue to note for more R&D.

Autonomous Advances

It may seem like Google is the only one developing autonomous vehicles but actually a lot of other companies are as well. Cruise Automation is battling the car manufactures as a startup by creating a cheaper alternative—a $10,000 accessory to strap to the roof of your car. For now, it only fits the Audi A4 and S4, but it gives riders/drivers the ability to take over control by tapping the brake or grabbing the steering wheel.

Some companies like Tesla are striving for truly autonomous vehicles, where passengers can get in, turn it on, go to sleep, and wake up at their destination. Not having a steering wheel at all seems questionable for when it’s necessary for the person to take control, for example if something were to malfunction.

There needs to be a lot of testing done for traveling through snow, heavy rain, and difficult courses. How will someone drive an autonomous vehicle on a dirt road or off-roading?

Elon Musk of Tesla predicts that autonomous cars will outpace the skills of a human driver within 5 to 6 years.

Cognitive Risk

There is some cognitive risk and fear associated with autonomous vehicles. While cars aren’t that new in human history, it has a significant impact on our lives today. Driverless cars obviously would decrease the cognitive driving experience and skills.

As people age, exercising the brain daily is healthy but what happens when people just get in and surf Facebook during commutes? Some may argue that this already happens when people take the bus or train but those are a minority and only for select times. On the plus side, it would give the elderly a more mobile existence without having to rely on others for transportation.

It will be some years before the majority of cars are driverless on the roads. Congress will likely maintain and increase their interests in overseeing the safety and how it will affect the economy. There are many benefits to autonomous vehicles but it’s also important to consider the balance of how much we rely on technology for everything every day.

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