All signs are pointing toward a driverless future. Although the technology for a fully autonomous car is still in its infancy, automobile and technology companies such as Uber, Google, Tesla, and Ford are racing to be the first to cross the finish line.
Yesterday Uber announced that riders in San Francisco can hail a self-driving Volvo XC90 outfitted with LIDAR (Laser Imaging, Detection and Ranging), rooftop cameras, and an array of other sensors to collect mapping data – a sight that will surely raise a few eyebrows from passersby. However, it will also be noticeable that two Uber employees remain seated in the front seat during these rides. Uber's self-driving service has been piloted in Pittsburgh, but still requires a human to be behind the wheel. Uber's technology may shine by responding to risks unforeseen to a human driver, but its cameras and sensors are unable to interpret signals from other drivers such as “drive around me”. Nevertheless it is clear that self-driving cars are just around the corner.
In fact, self-driving cars are already closer to home than you may expect. In Arizona news, Google has announced the creation of a testing facility for its fleet of self-driving vehicles in Chandler. Parts of Chandler and Ahwatukee have been mapped and an undisclosed amount of Google's 24 Lexus vehicles have joined the streets. Last year, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, UA President Ann Weaver Hart, and VP of Advanced Technologies at Uber Brian McClendon announced a partnership to focus on research and development in optics for mapping and safety. It would be unsurprising if Tucson were to become a hub city to test these new technologies.
Self-driving cars in Arizona do present a real benefit to passengers and drivers. According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, of the more than 29,000 collisions reported last year, nearly 3,000 were caused by a distracted driver. By eliminating distractions and human error, one can only wonder about the number of lives and damages that can be saved.
Just as exciting as the latest breakthrough in self-driving technology, it will also be interesting to observe how the law responds and adapts to this emerging industry. Placing human lives in the hands of an autonomous vehicle will have any consumer watchdog on edge. The possibility of a malfunction or wrong decision made by an autonomous system in an emergency situation will have great implications in terms of responsibility. Though only time will tell how the landscape of motor vehicle accidents will be shaped, drivers ought to be even more vigilant during the next few years as the integration of self-driving cars ramps up its pace.