How Safe Is Automated Driving? (Maxi Taxi 4)

Automated driving is central to the Maxi Taxi concept. Although the Maxi Taxi ferry concept does not specifically require full automated driving, the ferry concept, at a minimum, will use automated parking type technology to load and unload the ferries automatically with human drivers on public roads. However, the Maxi Taxi concept will really come into its own with automated driving.

Automated driving is probably the most radical component of the Maxi Taxi concept from a consumer point of view.

I have been closely following automated driving efforts for over 15 years, and today we are far past the proof of concept phase. As a matter of fact, there are no technological barriers to automated driving and the remaining barriers are related to manufacturing, standardization, and regulatory issues and consumer acceptance.

Today the most visible effort in automated driving is being supported by Google and their cars have driven hundreds of thousands of miles without problems while operating in mostly human controlled traffic. But Google’s effort is simply one of many efforts, many of which have shown remarkable success.

Often I hear people express amazement that automated driving could be possible and that it can be so readily introduced. The reason for the amazement is that driving is such an integral part of today’s human life and to suddenly remove such a “normal” part of life seems so jarring.

It is like telling late 19th century humans that in a few years horseback riding skills will no longer be important. But, remarkably, only a few year later horses and cars shared the road and while that took some adjustment, in the end, cars won because their benefits were so much greater. While the concept of cars may have appeared alien at first, by the time the cars became dominant, nobody was all that amazed.

But will the introduction of automated driving be as fraught with difficulties as car/horse interactions? Actually it will not.

Horses and cars operated on different speeds and horses do not have the level of awareness that humans have. Automated cars will defer to irrational human car controllers (and pedestrians and horses and deer). And since automated cars can react faster than humans, the chance that an automated car will be the victim of animal error or ignorance is actually smaller.

Remarkably, automated driving will become progressively safer with reduced human driven car traffic.

Very remarkably, automated driving will actually have tremendous societal benefits. Consider the following benefits, many of which are present concerns:

1.    Reduced traffic deaths

2.    Increased mobility for very senior citizens, who no longer are able to drive cars themselves

3.    Increased long distance transport by road, which will reduce airport congestion and reduce air port security delays, inefficiencies and indignities.

4.    Removal of texting and driving (and DUI) concerns

5.    Increased commuter efficiencies (reduced congestion, less stop and go driving, possibility for increased on the road productivity due to reduced time engaged in driving, convoy driving)

6.    And the list goes on

Meanwhile, there is no reason to believe that human operated cars will completely disappear. Those who love to drive cars can still do that, just like today there are also horseback riding enthusiasts. Automated driving will simply take the frustration out of driving.

So is automated driving a sign of a brighter future? Not necessarily and we’ll explore that next.

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August 2013 update: It looks like 2020 is the start-up year for public automated driving.