Self-driving cars built to create safer roads

ho should be permitted the privilege of driving a car? According to our lawmakers, only those over sixteen (depending on the state) who demonstrate the necessary knowledge and abilities in driver’s testing should receive licenses.

So, we’ve decided who should be allowed to drive. But a serious debate looms ahead regarding the coming commercial birth of autonomous, self-driving vehicles. Should robots be allowed to chauffeur us around? If so, should these cars be semi-autonomous or completely autonomous? What if the driverless car is not doing its job, should the human take over?

Driverless cars are coming. Google has been testing them on the streets for twelve years and we are getting closer and closer to the day when autonomous cars are available to the general public. Recently, the debate between the merits of driverless cars and intelligent cars (which keep humans in the loop) has intensified. The debate has pitted Google (who is developing completely autonomous cars) against Toyota (who is skeptical of Google’s plan and believes that the future lies in smart cars, which can alternate between an auto-driver and a good ‘ol human being).

The primary factor we should consider when evaluating the proliferation of semi-autonomous and autonomous cars is their safety. Google’s project began twelve years ago and in that time its cars have driven 1.8 million miles and been involved in twelve accidents. Impressively, none of the accidents were deemed the car’s fault, but were other (human) drivers.

On the other hand, Toyota recently announced plans to invest $50 million in semi-autonomous car research research, in collaboration with MIT and Stanford. Toyota’s has coined the term “intelligent cars.” The Japanese manufacturer has not released statistics on safety testing, but their work still appears very promising and full of potential.

American roboticist Gill Pratt, who recently left his job at the Pentagon, will oversee Toyota’s effort. Dr. Pratt likens the concept of intelligent cars to having a guardian angel watching over your driving at all times, ready to fix potential mistakes.

“It usually does nothing, unless you are about to do something dumb,” Pratt said.

Humans do have a tendency to do dumb things. By reducing the frequency of human error, both of these technologies will lessen the frequency of accidents and lives will be saved. That is a noble cause.

In my mind, Google has the edge. The appeal of a completely autonomous car is so much greater than an intelligent car, and I think that this will become clear in the long-run. For example, late-night bar venturers won’t have to arrange a ride home if they own a driverless car. However they will have to resort to an old fashioned method of Uber or a cab if they own an intelligent car. There are many other examples of why there will be a high demand for driverless cars and this is explains the intense race to get these cars on the commercial market.

So enjoy being in full control of your vehicle while you can, because you might not have this control for much longer. Imagine a day when actually driving your own car is seen as some sort of shunned, ultra-risky behavior. We’ve got an exciting future down the road. More importantly, one that will be safer for all of us.

Owen Sandercox ’19 ( is from Newtown, Conn. He majors in economics and statistics.

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