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Self-Driving Cars

There are a few technologies that I see coming over the horizon that excite but none more than self-driving cars.  Aren’t you tired of driving yourself around and having to deal with bad drivers on the roadway?  I look forward to a future where I can plant myself in a vehicle, tell it where I want to go and sit back to relax as I’m driven there by a patient, self-aware computer that has been proven to do a better job of driving than any human.

Ford Motor Company sees that same future, too, and they’ve recently partnered with the University of Michigan and State Farm Insurance to develop a prototype self-driving car based on the Ford Fusion. They are only the latest to join a very long list of automotive and technology companies who are working feverishly on developing a truly self-driving vehicle. Why the interest?  Well, the reason depends on your point of view:  insurance companies see the potential benefit of minimizing or completely eliminating human error as a factor in accidents as a huge upside; car companies are desperately trying to appeal to a new generation of car owners who aren’t as interested in a bigger motor or more bitchin’ looking car and are instead looking for more practical transportation alternatives. (Yes, the American love affair with the muscle car is on the wane!)

Federal and state governments have their own agenda when it comes to self-driving cars: the look into the future and see more cars on the roadways and less money to maintain them. Automated cars hold the promise of denser yet safer driving conditions, the dream of shoving twice as many vehicles on the roadways without worrying about more accidents. Transpotation companies are also looking at self-driven vehicles as a way to grow their business in a world where fewer and fewer people want to drive big rigs and live the harsh life of a trucker. Imagine self-driving big rigs plying the nation’s highways! Scary or exciting?

Is Ford in the vanguard or is this a fool’s errand?  Based on the rapid adoption of fringe technologies like 3D printing, which only a year ago was thought of as an expensive hobby but which is rapidly becoming an affordable and mainstream technology, I think self-driving cars will be here faster than we think.

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