Where transportation is headed



Imagine that you are making a 3 a.m. run to Meijer or some other all-night store and as you are driving along the deserted expressway, you glance over at the only other car on the road and there is no one behind the wheel. Cue spooky music. No this is not a scene from the “Twilight Zone” but a very real possibility in the near future.

Hardly a week goes by now that I don’t get an email about autonomous vehicles aka driverless cars. One forecast puts commercial driverless cars on the road as soon as 2020. That mainly applies to taxis, buses, Uber vehicles and other public transportation uses. One report I read forecast 2025 for personal vehicles while others said that owning a driverless vehicle could cost too much for most of us. They said we are more likely to have a shared vehicle set up.

But for now manufacturers still are working out the bugs. One report said they have already successfully road tested a driverless vehicle in a coast-to-coast trip. Other reports say driverless cars have logged more than one million miles in test trips around the nation. Ann Arbor is the home of MCity, a simulated city with fake buildings, five miles of roadways, working traffic signals, street lights and other real-world scenarios to test and refine the technology.

I am in the early learning stages about how these vehicles work. My questions are more practical. Will widespread use prevent other drivers from cutting me off in traffic, taking cuts in construction zones, exceeding the speed limit and other things that drivers in cars now do to tick me off?

Trust will be the biggest issue for me. While I love the idea of programming a car to drive me to Tampa while I sleep, right now I don’t trust it. A reported fatality with a test car in May of this year happened while it was in auto-pilot mode and they don’t know if the passenger was alert or asleep.

Google and Tesla were among the first to pilot autonomous vehicles but now the driverless car industry is rapidly ramps up.

You can find a lot more helpful information about the past, present and future of driverless cars online at www.driverless-future.com/, a blog that tracks industry progress. You can also go online to the U.S. Department of Transportation website to find the 15-point list of government guidelines, issued last week, to steer manufacturers in a safe direction.

More front-seat knowledge will come at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit in January. John Krafcik, CEO of Google’s Self-Driving Car project will be the keynote speaker for AutoMobili-D, a new feature at NAIAS that will focus on the rapidly evolving mobility industry. AutoMobili-D, January 8-12, will feature more than 100 technology and mobility-focused companies from around the world, including automakers, tier one suppliers and tech startups.

Pretty soon we will no longer have to imagine what our transportation future holds. rsanders@mihomepaper.com

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