First, came the electric cars, which was meant basically to save on fuel cost and protect the environment from harmful carbon dioxide emissions.
Of late, however, the evolution of the global motoring industry is on the expected arrival of self-driving or autonomous vehicles, which critics view in two different ways.
It can either be a boon or a bane. In terms of the boon, autonomous cars can add convenience to the drivers and passengers and there would be less of the traffic violations too. In terms of bane, some skeptics are claiming that self-driving vehicles are going to destroy the economic systems of key cities in the world, particularly with regards to employment.
The former R&D chief of General Motors Larry Burns actually compared the advent of autonomous cars to an arms race. Regardless of whether these cars would be useful or problematic for the human population remains to be seen.
However, one thing is clear, the total automation of driving is certainly going to transform the way people live, notes IEEE Spectrum.
The year of autonomous cars
There have been a number of test drives that have been spotted for self-driving vehicles especially in the US and critics are saying that 2017 may be the year when these autonomous cars would start hitting the streets officially.
Carmakers Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla have made the fearless forecast that they will get fully autonomous cars and trucks on the road in the US by 2021. Their promise was also seconded by American tech firms Google and Uber.
In fact, late in 2015, the Uber-owned company Otto sent a Budweiser beer delivery from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs by autonomous truck.
Outside of the US, Chinese Internet company Baidu, partnering with Foton Motor Group, also introduced its sleek semi-autonomous Super Truck.
Germany’s Daimler also tested a driverless truck platoon in the European country. The only place driverless cars don’t seem to be turning up anytime soon is India, where autonomous cars will never be able to keep up with the country’s make-it-up-as-you-go human counterparts.
The good and bad news
As with any disruptive technology, there’s good news and bad news for autonomous cars. Experts believe that there many positive impacts that self-driving vehicles will have on people and the environment until they start to think about what it will do to the job market.
In the US, the most common job in more than 50% of the states is that of a driver. Some 3.5 million in America drive for a living. Not to mention the tens of millions of people who work in the infrastructure that supports cars, trucks, and drivers for motels, restaurants, gas stations, which is pegged at around 50 million.
Questions about the impact of self-driving vehicles on the global workforce are already the subject of fierce and sometimes hand-wringing public debate, but mostly among sociologists and economists and Silicon Valley gurus.
Meanwhile, it has been personally discovered by Erik Coelingh, head of safety and driver assist technologies of Swedish carmaker Volvo, that a car with any level of autonomy that relies upon a human to save the day in an emergency poses almost insurmountable engineering, design, and safety challenges, simply because humans are for the most part horrible backups.
He admitted that the problem is too difficult because most humans are inattentive, easily distracted, and slow to respond, reports Wired.
So instead of developing autonomous vehicles that do their thing under most circumstances but rely upon a person to take the wheel in an emergency, something regulators call Level 3 autonomous capability, Volvo is going straight to full autonomy where drivers would be simply along the ride.
Google already made the decision as early as 2012 when it decided that full autonomy, no steering wheel, no pedals, no human backup, was the best way forward for self-driving cars.
The shift came as automakers recognized the difficulty of the handoff or in getting the person behind the wheel to take control at a moment’s notice from the computer.
Automakers also saw only incremental improvements in safety, convenience, and value by advancing from Level 2 autonomy, cars that can keep their lane and handle rush-hour gridlock, to more sophisticated systems that still require human intervention.