Why We Older Folks Should be Excited about Self Driving Cars

I had my first introduction to a self-driving car in 1962. I was 12 years old and it came thanks to my first visit to Disneyland when I took a ride in Automania. These were cars guided by a rail in the center of the driving course. I distinctly remember being pissed I could not actually drive this car and that it actually drove me. For us old timers, Automania was a “D” ticket back then. Of course, Disney has upgraded these self-driving cars at their parks many times over the years but, if you have been to Disneyland and ridden in any ride they have (except the Safari Ride in Animal Kingdom), they are all self-driving and tied to either a track or some type of sensor-based automation signals used for navigation and controls.

Today, the concept of self-driving cars is a hot topic. Google is trying to perfect the driverless car and to date, their prototype has driven over 1.5 million miles in real road conditions as part of their tests. Almost all of the automakers are also working on driverless cars and word is even Apple may throw their weight behind an auto of their own, although it is still unclear exactly what they may bring to market at this point. Given all the work in this area, it seems inevitable some type of autonomous cars will come to market in the future.

For us baby boomers, these driverless cars will be a godsend. As we get older, one of the things that concerns me is at some point, either health or age will become an issue and many of us will have our licenses yanked from us by the state DMV. But the freedom and mobility a car gives us has become pretty much a birthright and, at least for me, the idea of not being able to get in my car and control that part of my life is a paralyzing thought. Thankfully, Silicon Valley and the auto industry are feverishly working on a solution for us I hope will be ready by the time the DMV says I can’t drive anymore.

Although Silicon Valley and the auto industry are trying to bring autonomous cars to market relatively soon, there are still a lot of roadblocks, many of them governmental and regulatory, before commercial automobiles go driverless. Interestingly, when I talk to the semiconductor, sensor, camera and navigation companies, they tell me that all of the technology to make this happen is already here to deliver a driverless car. But they admit it will be many years before this becomes a reality as both industries need to perfect a lot of things related to how sensors and cameras interact with other cars, the automobile form factor best for this type of driving experience, and all of the regulatory rules needed to make them possible.

And for this to work really well, city streets, lights and highways may also need special sensors to communicate with these vehicles to make sure all the digital rules are followed so accidents are kept to a minimum.

There was a study that came out this week that states by mid-century, “Driverless cars can reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90%.” This stat alone should make governments, the auto industry, and consumers want to embrace self-driving cars sooner rather than later. But, like many new and highly disruptive technologies that come to market, it will take time to make this part of the fabric of our lifestyles and culture. In the meantime, Silicon Valley and the auto industry are focused on the connected car and our cars becoming smarter is nearer to reality.

Microsoft led the way but now Apple and Google are moving aggressively to try and get the car makers to support their individual platforms. In many ways, our cars are actually computers on wheels today. But Microsoft, Apple, and Google want to be the operating system that drives communications, apps and services of these cars and make them more intelligent. Apple’s new Car Play is being supported by almost all auto makers today and Google’s Android Auto is gaining traction with many car makers as well. While many cars already have Bluetooth connections to our smartphones and some even have WIFI radios in them, the next big leap is to actually put Android or iOS directly into the car’s entertainment and communications system and then add the element of apps. It will be access to apps written specifically for the automobile that will make these connected cars most interesting.

In this scenario, iOS and Android will deliver to drivers the ability to connect to their entire ecosystem of music, videos and location-based services. And using dedicated SDKs, software developers can create innovative apps designed just for use in an automobile. Think of the car now as another device Apple and Google can deliver their OS with an ecosystem of apps and services. We are clearly on the cusp of the age of connected cars that will eventually evolve into driverless cars in the relatively near future.

I recently moderated a panel about connected and driverless cars and, at the end of the session, I stated that I thought I had at least 15 years before the DMV took my license due to age or perhaps health issues. I asked each of these experts if they thought by then we would have drivelers cars that could accommodate my needs. Everyone on the panel said enthusiastically that, 15 years from now, driverless cars will be a big part of our driving culture. I personally am rooting for this to happen to make sure I keep the mobile lifestyle I have had all of my life.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

One thought on “Why We Older Folks Should be Excited about Self Driving Cars”

  1. An elevator is a self driving car, in one dimension, with no obstacles, and still there are gruesome accidents.

    A self driving car is essentially an elevator driving in 2D, with obstacles. I’ll wait, but it’s measured in decades, not quarters. Then maybe I’ll get excited.

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