As a new driver, I can’t wait to get my hands on the wheel and hit the open road. But in a future where hands-free, self-driving cars may likely be the new reality, what will it mean for my generation of drivers.
If your vision of futuristic travel is the flying saucer-like aero cars from the 1960’s-era cartoon classic, “The Jetsons,” you’re not alone. However, instead of looking up at the sky, the next level of new technology for driving will debut on the streets and roads in your own town. It looks less Jetsons and more like your family’s minivan with a telescope attached to the roof.
“Autonomous vehicles would be awesome,” said junior Chaney Keck. “I could get some extra homework done on the way to school,”
But not every driver is so excited to relinquish control. “I like being in control of the wheel when I’m driving so I’m not a huge fan of this new driverless technology,” junior Mark Armendariz said.
Autonomous cars with hands-free technology will be here before we know it.
In fact, cars are already full of driver-assistance features – like cruise control, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning and automatic parking. Automakers around the world are pursuing autonomous vehicle development, and here in the U.S., Congress is making history by removing barriers to the ability of automakers and other tech companies such as Google and Apple to safely test and deploy these technologies. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have introduced legislation aimed at allowing the use of self-driving cars without human controls.
In terms of practical applications of this technology, competition among ride-sharing companies such as Lyft and Uber is heating up to be the first to offer pilot programs for driverless ride-hailing services. According to John Krafcik, the chief executive of Waymo, Google’s standalone autonomous vehicle division, “because we see so much potential in shared mobility, the first way people will get to experience Waymo’s fully self-driving technology will be as a driverless service.”
Waymo’s product manager for user experience, Juliet Rothenberg, adds “The challenge of the in-car experience is to transition people from the paradigm of the driver, which has existed for over a century, to a full-time passenger.”
While advocates say that self-driving cars have the potential to help improve motor vehicle safety, make transportation more accessible for millions of people and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the average driver still has plenty of questions about the safety of these new technologies.
Junior Erik Boesen, a member of the robotics team at GMHS, said he finds autonomous driving “extraordinarily exciting.”
“Reworking what we define as a car is going to be a profoundly complicated process, but I’m confident progress will eventually prevail,” Boesen said.
Mason technology teacher, Mr. Kenny George, sees driverless cars as helping to alleviate traffic congestion, especially in urban areas like Washington D.C. But he is not without his doubts: “I do have my concerns however with algorithms replacing human judgement in difficult situations,” George said. “These systems will encourage drivers to become even more distracted when behind the wheel.”
Whether driverless cars are a soon-to-be reality, or years away, one thing is certain — today’s high school drivers are at the starting line of biggest revolution in personal transportation since the automobile replaced the horse-and-buggy.