Self-Driving Cars: Our Future as Passengers

No matter how long it takes to fully gain traction, the age of autonomous cars will be hereCar illustration with sensors before we know it. Those in the know see it as the inevitable future of transportation, with vehicles designed as moving living rooms. Given the numerous high-profile companies developing self-driving technologies, as well as the hundreds of other small companies and start-ups dedicating themselves to enabling this industry through connectivity, sensors, and other products (see this chart), we are well on our way to becoming full-time passengers.

And that’s not all bad. As such, people can potentially create a “passenger economy,” identified by Intel as a boon to productivity worth $7 trillion, because everyone will be able to use their travel time more efficiently, working instead of driving, and the industry will spur new markets. Autonomous cars are also seen as a safer choice, with fewer potential accidents than human-controlled cars.

While critics say that the widespread adoption of self-driving cars may cause the loss of jobs (including drivers of taxis, long-haul trucks, and delivery services), which will eventually be true, the new types of jobs created in their wake might make up for that loss. Critics also note that there has already been resistance from potential buyers due to concerns for privacy and security, as well as their hesitation to trust a new technology.

But the question remains, will most customers want a self-driving car? Or do people love driving enough that they will continue to want control of their own vehicle? Mercedes-Benz recently posted an article regarding how autonomous cars will kill the joy of driving, but conceded that perhaps it will be a small price to pay for better safety on the roads.  They also noted that perhaps, as your self-driving car controls itself, you might use your newfound freedom to, ironically (and somewhat hilariously), play a virtual reality car racing game inside of it.

Delay in Decisive Backup Camera Legislation Leads to Lawsuit

rearview camera

Rearview camera screen on a dashboard.
(This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.)

At the end of September, a lawsuit was filed against the government by several citizen groups and individuals, citing government inaction on automotive rearview camera legislation.  While a law requiring rearview cameras in all motor vehicles was passed
in 2008 and slated for enactment in 2011
, the Transportation Department never delivered on it.

The Transportation Department said that it would add rearview cameras to its list of recommended safety measures just before the suit was filed.  Some automakers say that it is important that rearview cameras remain optional so that consumers can choose whether to pay extra for the feature.  However, NHTSA estimated in 2010 that backup cameras would add only $53 to $88 to the price of cars with dash display screens (which even many economy small cars now have) and $159 to $203 for vehicles without them.

Although this delay has frustrated and angered supporters of mandatory cameras, they have not completely lost the battle to bring the technology to the masses.  Now, there is global recognition of the significant benefits of the cameras.  This year, 79% of new cars offer the cameras either standard or as an option.  In addition, 53% of 2013 model cars and light trucks do have a standard camera.  Honda is leading the pack, making rearview vision standard on all models by 2014.

One of the individuals filing the lawsuit is Greg Gulbransen, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post to bring attention to his passion for the cause.  When he tragically hit his two year old, fatally, in 2002, he began to campaign for change. In 2007, the new law requiring backup cameras was named for his son Cameron.

“For many consumers backup cameras have reached the same status as air conditioning or cruise control,” says Karl Brauer, senior analyst at car research site Kelley Blue Book.  He notes that unlike those comfort features, “there’s a certifiable safety benefit to backup cameras. … It’s time for backup cameras to be a required feature on all new cars sold in the U.S.”

Rearview Cameras Crucial for Vehicle Backup Safety

Drivers backing up cars, vans, and trucks cannot see anything immediately behind their vehicle.  Each year, this problem accounts for an estimated 300 backover fatalities and 18,000 backover injuries.  Tragically, many of these accidents involve small children.  In 2008, Congress approved a law to establish rear visibility standards, possibly requiring rearview or backup cameras in all cars, but the legislation was put on hold in March, in order to “ensure the most protective and efficient rule possible.”

Cameras placed at the rear of the car have been found to be the most effective way to alert drivers of people in their back-up path.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a report in 2006 entitled “Vehicle Backover Avoidance Technology Study.” The report concluded from its testing that ultrasonic and radar sensor technology is ineffective for this purpose and that vision-based cameras had the greatest potential for success because “the rearview camera systems typically provided drivers with the ability to see pedestrians in the majority of the rear blind zone areas.”

Vehicle Blind Zone

Image from “Vehicle Backover Avoidance Technology Study” by NHTSA and USDOT.

Blind zones become larger as car size increases; for instance, the driver of a Cadillac Escalade has a blind zone ranging from 30 to 100 feet behind the vehicle.  Many newer vehicle models do include rearview cameras to address this issue, such as this one: the BMW X3 xDrive 35i backup camera.

BMW X3 Rearview Camera

The BMW X3 Backup Camera

Kasalis believes that there is indeed great potential in rearview video systems to prevent backover accidents.  In the hope that Congress revisits this legislation sometime in 2012, and rearview cameras become standard, we look forward to working with automotive cameras a great deal in the near future.