Autonomous Cars Face A Lot of Challenges

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Back in 2012 AAMCO Colorado posted an article about autonomous vehicles being just around the corner. The Future Is Now, Autonomous Vehicles.Image of self-driving car interior

If the future is now, that means today is tomorrow. Philosophical tangents on time and being aside, that was 2012, so we were wondering just how far these robotic road warriors have come in four years. Have they turned any corners, much less the corner? Some corners that have been turned are proof of concept, development of the technology, assembly of concept vehicles, and actual test driving in the real world. Autonomous vehicles fielded by Google have logged over 1.5 million miles in major cities as of this writing.

But the corner – the big one – is consumer acceptance. The first viable models of autonomous cars are predicted to be on the market, ready for buyers, by 2019 or 2020. While no single automaker is really claiming it will be the first, many of them seem to think that 2020 is the latest we’ll see fully autonomous cars on the market – and even that might an aggressive timeline when taking into consideration the many things it will take to get robot cars on the roads.

Politics & Industry

As with any new, world-changing technology, self-driving cars will have to pass numerous industry tests and meet many regulatory requirements before being put to the ultimate test – the users. Before drivers (AKA buyers) accept self-driving cars, what will it take to manufacture and continuously improve those cars? It’s not just a matter of automobile manufacturing anymore. Infrastructure and technological factors in other industries come into play.

Self-driving cars would put a greater number of cars on the nation’s roads, enabling many more people to get around at will. The maintenance and continuous improvement of roads and the national infrastructure required to support the added traffic and associated dynamics, in addition to administration, will be monumental. Public transportation, often a concern, might not be impacted too greatly if the cost of acquisition and management of infrastructure for autonomous cars is prohibitive. But private enterprise might bridge that gap by enabling governments to “autonomize” their buses and trains at reasonable cost – and add to that fleets of small, efficient autonomous cars.

With private companies entering the fray, wanting to push their products and services on consumers at every turn, politics and industry will start to merge in order to get autonomous cars out on the roads. What we will most likely see is the automation of public transport, along with fleets of autonomous cars always at the ready, only a text or phone call away, much like taxis.

Regulation – Laws & Insurance

New legislation governing the classification, registration, ownership, and operation of autonomous vehicles will inevitably have to be drafted. Who will be allowed to take self-driving cars on the road? What will be the licensing requirements? What are the classifications of reasonable use? Are privately owned autonomous cars the same as autonomous taxis? How does the Uber factor affect all of this? Additionally, and most importantly, the cost of insuring an autonomous vehicle will be a major factor in the technology’s success and availability.

The insurance industry will likely set up new rules of engagement for autonomous cars, from statistical analysis and tracking, to liability and premium calculation. They will have to formulate new risk calculations, premium structures and clauses to handle the multitude of new scenarios that self-driving cars bring to the nation’s roads. Age old questions gain new and different factors. Who is liable when an autonomous vehicle and a human-driven vehicle collide? What are the determining factors for filing a claim and determining payout? If anything has to go to court for a decision, what are the existing laws that come into play?

Both insurance and legislation will evolve as the technology works its way into society. Early adopters of the technology will also, however inadvertently, become part of incidents and cases that will be used to set the course of both industries, and help determine early evolution of policy and interpretation of laws for everyone.Image of avenue in autumn from driver point of view

Technology

Other technologies tend to advance and evolve much more rapidly than automobiles – and the mere concept of a self-driving car is predicated on the latest and best of numerous other technologies that were or are not originally intended specifically for helping maneuver a car through a city.

In answer to many of the legal and insurance/financial questions: enter the automobile black box. Depending on the year and make of your car, its movements and mechanical activities are being tracked and logged by a computer. Premium driver and roadside assistance services, such as OnStar and other systems integrated into cars on the market today, gather mountains of data on you, the driver. Your driving habits and patterns all go into insurance algorithms that help determine premiums.

Additionally, automakers usually do not want to foot any of the costs of changing their vehicles if features don’t sell (case in point: seat belts. But if consumers demand features, automakers will eventually listen – and if not, legislation usually forces the issue eventually.

As with many advances in technology, the cost of owning and operating autonomous cars will probably be prohibitive for most people, at first. But as adoption rises, technology improves, supply chain, manufacturing, marketing and other financial factors adjust and streamline, we might one day see roads where 99% of all vehicles are fully autonomous. Until that day, what we’ll most likely see, throughout the evolution of this idea, is vehicles with different purposes being assigned certain levels of autonomy. Cars on the showroom floors will be sold with some standard autonomous features, and consumers will be able to choose upgrades and packages of options to bring their cars closer to fully autonomous.

When it comes to the availability and popularity of autonomous cars, there are numerous questions to be answered, issues to be addressed. Will the safety factor outweigh the fear of technology takeover? How will American drivers accept cars that can effectively think on the go and make decisions on their own? How will insurance and automobile companies come to terms with technology that could greatly impact their bottom lines? Time will tell, whether the future of cars is now, or if today is really tomorrow.

Come to your local AAMCO Colorado store for a complete ProtectCheck Diagnostic. We’ll help you keep your car running reliably so you won’t have to worry about it today – or tomorrow.

If you have questions about your car’s road readiness, or about car repair and maintenance topics, AAMCO Colorado can help. You can also go online and use the AAMCO Colorado Ask a Mechanic feature to submit your auto repair questions. They will be answered by a real AAMCO Colorado mechanic as soon as possible.

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