Tech giants and car manufacturers are on the edge of a revolution in the car industry. Driverless prototypes are ready, and plans are set to bring vehicles to the taxi industry, in fact driverless taxis may be the only option in a few years time. Despite driverless vehicles offering many opportunities, it’s still not clear whether the advantages will outweigh the downsides.
Uber are one of the companies pushing forward with this technology and are actively testing its feasibility. The company brought hybrid Ford Fusion equipped with radar, laser sensors and high-resolution cameras for testing on the roads around their technology centre in Pittsburgh. However, taxi drivers are already unhappy with Uber and the threat it poses to them, with, according to the Telegraph, more than 70 legal and regulatory cases filed against the company. This move and the money being pumped into making it a reality is unlikely to go down well amongst even their own fleet of drivers.
However, many outside of the industry look at the future of driverless taxis positively. Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, India, is aiming to solve its traffic problem by introducing a network of driverless taxi pods that are set to carry up to 30,000 people daily. London Heathrow Airport already runs a driverless service but taxi pods only operate within the airport premises, moving travellers from the car parks to the terminals.
Larger driverless taxi networks are planned for Singapore. NuTonomy, a driverless car startup has already passed its first obstacle test and is set to start public testing by the end of 2016, according to Forbes. The company intends to become a pioneer in bringing the self-driving taxi service to Singapore. The service will let customers order a taxi using a smartphone app, similar to Uber. Even though Singapore is famous for its strict regulations, the island has already invested millions of dollars on automated vehicles. Also, given the small size of the country, it takes less time for new legislation to be approved and implemented, so we may see the first self-driving taxis sooner than many anticipate.
However, there are still concerns over the safety of driverless vehicles, especially after the first fatal traffic incident involving a Tesla car. Decades of advances in technology and machine learning couldn't prevent the accident on May the 7th, 2016. The autopilot sensors on the Tesla's Model S failed to distinguish another vehicle crossing the highway against a bright sky, which resulted in the car driving underneath the lorry, killing the driver, Joshua Brown. In their official statement on the incident, Tesla said it was the first known autopilot death in some 130 million miles driven by its customers.
According to figures acquired by the Association For Safe International Road Travel, more than 37,000 people die in road accidents each year in the US alone. It's undeniable that driverless vehicles still have issues to be fixed, but accidents caused by human error are also a serious problem. According to Kevin Curran, a senior member of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineering (IEEE): 'Computers don't get bored, tired or distracted because they want to change the radio station or send a text message,’ and removing the human factor may save thousands of lives.