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‘How Close Are We to Self-Driving Cars, Really?’

Chris Urmson helped pioneer self-driving car technology at Google before founding Aurora (which sells self-driving car software to automakers, and this week announced a new partnership with Chrysler and a new round of investment by Hyundai). In a new interview, Urmson “says he expects that in about five to 10 years, Americans will start seeing robots cruising down the road in a handful of cities and towns across the country,” reports Slate.

“It will be about 30 to 50 years, he says, until they’re everywhere. ”

I think within the next five years we’ll see small-scale deployment. That’ll be a few hundred or a few thousand vehicles. Really this is the, it’s Silicon Valley speak, this is the zero-to-one moment of proving that the technology actually works, understanding how customers want to use it, convincing ourselves that — and when I say ourselves, I mean as a society — that these are sufficiently safe, that we trust them on the roadway, and that’s that first phase… [W]hen the technology actually starts to become scaled, then we can ask the question what have we learned, what are the ways that we can make this a little bit safer, a little bit incrementally more efficient, and that’s what I think local and state governments and federal government would invest in infrastructure…

The statistic I heard was 30 percent of traffic in San Francisco is people looking for parking. I heard a more alarming statistic that was 80 percent of traffic in Paris was people looking for parking. So imagine you have automated vehicles that take you to a location, you hop out, then it just drives down the block and picks up the next person and takes them where they’re going. Suddenly, you’ve alleviated a massive chunk of the congestion in a city. Similarly, if you look at the floor plan of a city today, somewhere between 30â”40 percent of cities is dedicated to parking and roads. And so again, if you have automated vehicles operating as a transportation service, whether it’s private or public transportation networks in the city, you don’t need that real estate to be dedicated for parking. That real estate now can be recaptured, and it can be used for park space, it can be used for residential space, yeah, it can be used for mixed residential-commercial office space… Certainly for urban centers, I think it’s much more likely that this technology is a shared platform that people get on and get off. It’s an even more convenient version of a bus or of a taxi service.


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