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The future of autonomous vehicles may be closer than you think

Jul 20, 2015

MCity is open to researchers and is a key step toward getting autonomous vehicles ready for real roadways
Credit Ford Motor Company

The University of Michigan has just opened a brand-new testing facility for autonomous vehicles, or “AVs.”

MCity will test the AV technology in a very realistic off-roadway environment, a key step before connected and automated vehicles and systems are deployed on actual roadways.

Autonomous vehicles are something of a rarity. Companies like Google are running some tests on real roads, but seeing one on the road is a little like spotting a hummingbird in your yard: a brief, fascinating sight, sparking curiosity as you watch it disappear into the world.

But Kevin DeSouza predicts that in the not-too-distant future, AVs will be extremely commonplace and will completely disrupt current business models.

DeSouza is with the Center for Technology Innovation, and a professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University. He says there are two key factors for widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles. The first is price, and the second is safety.

As far as price goes, DeSouza says we can expect the typical trend for new technology. Autonomous vehicles will be prohibitively expensive at first, before gradually coming down to a price range more accessible to consumers at large.

No surprises there, that’s how the marketplace works. He says the issue that might require more convincing is safety. But so far, the numbers look good.

“If you look at what Google and a few of the other players in the AV market have identified, they have logged countless hours of accident-free travel,” DeSouza says.

In the cases in which an autonomous vehicle has been involved in an accident, he tells us that the fault has fallen on the human driver operating the other vehicle and trying to break a traffic law.

According to DeSouza, autonomous vehicles are much safer than human drivers because they are “engineered to be highly risk averse, so they actually follow all of the programmed rules that we train drivers on when we have them go for a defensive driving class.”

He says autonomous vehicles will reduce accidents, drunk driving, seating and traffic fines, and a lot of other negative things we associate with driving.

DeSouza envisions a society in which instead of using our cars to get from point A to point B and then leaving them idle for everything in between, we will utilize our vehicles’ automated nature to put them to work.

Instead of each individual owning their own AV, he says we will be able to share and rent these vehicles in real time.

“It is going to be more like ride sharing, more community-oriented approaches to how AVs get managed,” he says. As a direct result, he predicts a huge reduction in traffic congestion.

DeSouza tells us more about what the future of autonomous cars will look like in our conversation above.

-- Ryan Grimes, Stateside