Technology in the mobility space has made travel safer, faster and more convenient. The results have been incredible: The Insurance Information Institute found a 33 percent decrease in automobile deaths in the past three years. The same survey found that nine models registered zero fatalities per vehicle per million. Mobility has also become more accessible with ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft delivering more than one million rides a day in more than 60 countries.
Despite the upside, there are consequences to innovation. On May 7th of this year, a Tesla owner died while using the Autopilot feature. His vehicle crashed into a truck after his Tesla failed to differentiate the white color of the truck against the backdrop of the sky. This event may change the narrative and public appeal for autonomous driving. It puts into perspective how close the future actually is and whether or not society will fully embrace it.
Autonomous driving promises to decrease the automobile death toll. Last year there were 35,000 automotive-related deaths, accounting for .01 percent of the U.S. population. While it may not seem like a high number, those deaths are the result of people, not an algorithm that holds a passenger’s life within its source code. This brings us to question the liability programmers and the code they write be given the power to determine life and death for consumers who buy their cars. And ultimately, who is liable in the case of an accident or even death?
The next critical step is the proliferation of autonomous driving and the task of safely embedding its utility within the framework of our society. With these issues in mind, private companies and governmental agencies are taking appropriate steps to address them. Google has been testing and building a fleet of self-driving cars that have completed 1.5 million miles of road tests.
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved vehicle-to-vehicle technology that enabled vehicles to “talk” to one another and can help prevent human errors that often lead to collision. And this March, General Motors acquired a startup called Cruise Automation for $1 billion. GM was already on pace to launch a highway-oriented, smart cruise control system in its Cadillac CT6 line. Technological and governmental infrastructure for autonomous vehicles is well on its way to maturity.
By Kevin Wang
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