Self-driving cars will probably be available before long, once the considerable costs of the equipment are lowered. Audi, BMW, Toyota, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Tesla and especially Google are putting huge resources into the development of such vehicles. Volvo has 100 of them on the road in Sweden. Six years ago Google announced that they had already tested the technology in the “real world,” having driven 140,000 miles with their fleet of seven tricked-out Toyota Prius Hybrids. The real world was Highway 1 between LA and San Francisco. Of course there was a hands-off driver present so as not to freak out other drivers along the way. Since then, one of those cars has been driven 300,000 miles without an accident! The self-driving technology uses GPS of course, plus mapping software, several laser sensors and optical radar to safely navigate highways and local traffic. It is estimated that when such cars are in wide use, as many as 30,000 lives a year would be saved and millions of injuries would be prevented.
The technology might be commercially available first in trucks. Imagine the savings that a long-haul carrier would realize if no driver had to be employed, even with amortizing the high up-front cost of the equipment. Trucks would arrive faster even while observing the speed limit, since no rest for a driver would be required. A company called Otto in San Francisco has hired 15 former Google engineers in hopes of developing such self-driving big rigs that have already logged over 10,000 miles. Daimler demonstrated an autonomous truck this year. So where is the downside? Just this: there are 3.5 million truck drivers in the country. Imagine the impact of losing upwards of a million jobs. And consider all the truck stops along the way that would lose a large part of their business, especially in small towns. This, along with artificial intelligence, are serious problems that society and government will need to address. Technology cannot be stopped.