Here’s what you need to know about self-driving cars.
How does a self-driving car work Not so great
Autonomous cars have been called about more this year than its riders.
Currently, there are nearly a dozen companies working on autonomous vehicles, a number that is expected to grow and scale by 10 to 15 times. But on October 7th, the association that represents the self-driving industry will hold its first-ever conference, aiming to explain and teach its attendees how they can apply their technology to the taxi and ride-sharing industry.
A recent survey of 873 cabbies found that three out of every four have a fear of being dropped off by an autonomous vehicle, CNN Money reported. Another 42% said they worried the government wouldn’t enforce any laws when it came to the use of self-driving vehicles. Those feelings haven’t changed much since the survey was last conducted, in August. Many of those polled also said they didn’t want to move to cities that don’t have driverless technology, and nearly the same amount had concerns about whether autonomous vehicles would be an effective way to transport people.
“We have a new technology,” says Dr. Antonio Vitiello, CEO of Quality Drivers Management Services, a firm that licenses drivers and works with companies like Uber, Lyft and Via. “It is very unusual for the public to understand what is going on with the development of this technology.”
But the self-driving industry is trying to answer these questions.
California is planning to set a legal framework for autonomous vehicle use in the state within the next year, reports CNN Money. New York, Michigan and Texas recently changed their laws to help companies test autonomous vehicles in their states. More regulations are expected to come in New York next year. And on October 31st, the International Road Traffic Union will decide whether to become one of the first countries to allow Level 4 autonomy on roads.
But as new laws are being drafted in these states, businesses like Lyft, Uber and Volvo — the makers of the XC90 SUV that is being used by Waymo in Pittsburgh — are devising their own plans. Waymo, which has no ownership stake in Lyft or Uber but recently acquired an autonomous trucking startup called FUSION, is likely to create its own logistics service. Uber acquired the lidar tech used by Waymo, creating its own sensor company called Magna. And Volvo — which bought Hexagon’s lidar tech last year and last month said it would invest $1 billion in new driverless vehicles — will probably launch its own autonomous platform, an Uber competitor.
Autonomous car enthusiasts believe those plans will make drivers more comfortable, but some industries aren’t sure the investments will pay off. Volvo isn’t sure if it will pursue autonomous vehicles full-time because of the financial risk, CEO Hakan Samuelsson said in an interview with Engadget. Similarly, the CEO of Lyft says they’re focusing on making driverless cars “as easy as a phone call.”
“We’re not here to serve 100 percent of customers and 100 percent of their needs,” CEO John Zimmer said, “we’re here to serve their needs and bring some value as a partner.”
Of course, predictions based on the progress and enthusiasm of companies like Volvo and Uber are difficult to judge. The self-driving industry has yet to show itself capable of meeting the transportation needs of the modern world. While it seems easier to put a value on autonomous vehicles than they do on an alternative to highway speeds, it’s hard to know how many people will be willing to pay a lot for a nearly passive transportation experience or how many people the government will make available to ride-sharing companies. And those are just two of the major questions keeping companies from sharing on the future of self-driving cars and the businesses that will likely survive.