Driverless cars are a hit at Consumer Electronics Show

Audi, Toyota, Lexus, Volvo, and Mercedes are all working on variants of the self-driving vehicle that was initially developed by Google. The basic technology has been taking shape, but applications keep evolving. Much of the debate centers on whether these cars would operate with complete autonomy or require some human involvement - much like an airline pilot flying a passenger plane. Audi, for example, envisions a vehicle that can handle stop-and-go driving conditions, while still allowing motorists "to take control of the car when needed." I suspect this could be more of a political distinction than a technological one. From transportation consultant Richard Gilbert (via the Globe & Mail:)

Surveys on attitudes to driverless in North America and Europe suggest an age divide: young people welcome them; older people do not. In spite of their relatively strong opposition to driverless cars, older people welcomed having automatic safety features and driving aids in regular automobiles almost as much as younger people (63 per cent vs. 71 per cent).

These results are similar to reactions among airline passengers about the prospect of not having at least one pilot at the controls - even if computers are essentially operating the plane. Older people are not entirely trustful of machines, especially when it involves split-second decision making. More than anything else, this apprehension will likely hold up fully autonomous vehicles. More from Richard Gilbert:

My guess is that for insurance and other reasons, autonomous cars will initially be managed by fleet-owners who will use them to provide a taxicab service. You'll order an autonomous taxicab (AT) on your smartphone, specifying destination, number of passengers, and amount of baggage. You'll negotiate exact pick-up and set-down locations with the dispatch computer and the time of pick-up (by spoken interaction or keyboard). An appropriate vehicle will arrive at that time and take you to your destination. When passengers and baggage have been unloaded, the vehicle will be available for a new assignment. For large loads, whether passengers or baggage, two ATs might arrive, linked electronically to travel together to the destination.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
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