October 25, 2013
The cars of the future will probably drive themselves and make superior motorists, claim scientists.
A study has concluded that as robots do not drink-drive, get distracted, fall asleep or tailgate in a rage, they would make safer and more efficient drivers than humans.
It also predicted that autonomous vehicles could significantly reduce congestion and provide tens of billions of dollars in economic benefits.
However, significant hurdles to widespread use of self-driving cars remain – not least the cost of the hi-tech vehicles.
Added sensors, software, engineering, power and computing requirements currently add up to over $100,000 (£62,000) per vehicle, which is unaffordable for most people, the study said.
But large-scale production ‘promises greater affordability over time,’ it concluded.
Questions also remain about public acceptance, liability in event of an accident, and the ability of automakers to prevent car computers from being hacked.
Nevertheless, the advantages of self-driving cars are such that if only 10 per cent of cars and lorries on the road were self-driving, they could reduce traffic deaths by 1,000 per year.
The report, by the Eno Centre for Transportation in Washington DC, also said autonomous cars could produce nearly $38 billion (£23 billion) in economic savings.
If 90 per cent of vehicles were self-driving, as many as 21,700 lives per year could be saved and economic benefits could reach a staggering $447 billion, (£276 billion) said the study.
‘There will be many steps before we get to that, but it does feel like there is a whole new world that completely changes everything in terms of our perspective on driving that could emerge eventually,’ said Joshua Schank, president and chief executive of the centre.
For example, the passenger seat could be converted so that former drivers could safely work on laptops, eat meals, read books, watch films and call friends.