Elon Musk has pledged to have an autonomous vehicle (AV) able to drive across the USA by the end of 2017. That’s an enormous statement and is ominous for its main competitors. General Motors, Ford, and Google don’t have deadlines for their autonomous models until 2021. The question begs: Are the Tesla S and its AV counterparts going to change the world the way the Model T changed the world back in the early-20th century? Frustratingly so, it seems that the slow adoption rate of AVs means that they’re unlikely to have much impact for at least another decade. Here are two of the main reasons behind this.
38,000 people are killed on United States roads, every year. And the statistics show that 95% of accidents are caused by human error. A lot of the resistance to AVs is insecurity around how they’ll react to unforeseen circumstances. And then, even if they do react well, how will human behavior respond to this. Imagine a highway where cars react to pedestrians. Assuming the cars slowdown in response to a pedestrian, it’s logical that infrastructures will need to be redeveloped to ensure smooth traffic flow.
While the decrease of traffic-related deaths, injuries and inevitable lawsuits is a positive, it’s unlikely that the major autonomous vehicle manufacturers will come to the party quickly. History shows us how safety lawsuits nearly cost Audi their US markets. It took the brand almost two decades to recover. Technology trends are such that safety concerns may keep AV adoption rates low until new technologies are developed to combat the current shortcomings.
Looking at the feasibility of the electric car and the infrastructure necessary to make it realistic, the redevelopment of infrastructure for the autonomous vehicle, particularly in older cities, may also be a stumbling block.
On the positive side, however, current infrastructure in newer cities won’t require too much redevelopment and the autonomous vehicle would make road networks a lot more efficient. This efficiency would lead to less energy wastage and carbon emissions.
Not everyone is overjoyed about this however. Fewer cars on the road is bad news for car manufacturers. And with future technology trends leaning towards AVs and vehicle-sharing, it’s up to these manufacturers to play catch up. To their credit, GM has seen the light with a massive investment in Lyft, but is it enough of a shift in the right direction?
Reaching the AV utopia of the future won’t be easy. There are still significant hurdles to be overcome. Thankfully, we seem to be making small steps towards embracing this technology. Systems like the Internet of Things will no doubt contribute to safer autonomous vehicles and increasingly faster adoption.
If you’re interested in reading more about the obstacles to AVs, read our blog post on how future technologies are shaping our lives. We should keep in mind that the future cannot be predicted with any certainty and that technology has a way of driving progress in unexpected ways.