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Preetam Kaushik Headshot

By End of Decade, Your Car Will Be Your Chauffeur

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A good 33,780 people lost lives in the United States involved in road accidents in 2012. This statistics is only of those who died. What's probably not mentioned in this number is the loss of hope, love, anchorage and security of all those mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who left their loved ones in lurch over an error. The number then would be staggeringly high.

Technology isn't God, but its intervention can save millions of lives that are lost on the roads of America involved in accidents, and for that matter, billions of lives world over!

Though car accidents and fatalities have come down in the last decade or so, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been advocating additional intervention of technology to bring the number of car accidents down drastically. For the self-driving vehicles to succeed as a choice of lifestyle, and also in terms of economy and safety, the automotive and computer industries must constantly make inroads into newer avenues of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technology. This is much needed for the cars that will probably constantly communicate with each other while on the road with the help of sensors.

For the automobile sector that hasn't witnessed many 'wow' moments after horse-drawn carriages gave way to automobiles feeding on fuel, self-driven cars are going to present the world with a breathtaking moment. It may just take till the end of this decade for a good few thousand premium cars without drivers to be cruising on the roads in almost all developed nations.

The two-seater self-driving pods are already making waves. The governments of United States and United Kingdom have already set these driverless cars on roads in selected cities. Insurance companies are drawing up new plans, while the rich and famous are anticipating the release of these cars into the market which would then be termed the new symbol of being 'tastefully loaded' or having 'arrived' on the block of affluence. After all, nothing shows off power like the new gadget, or a car or owning that address in Beverly Hills, with Hollywood and Silicon Valley etched on your business card.

New sector of production, a new assembly line to be designed and learnt, and a whole new set of production technology will mean millions of professionals researching into the new line of technology across the world. Jobs would be created, and new technology will unravel numerous possibilities with the contemporary scenario then.

Of course, till the time patenting comes around, the low-end versions would be available within short span of time following the premium range being released into the market. This could bring a lot of changes for better in public transport and mobility to those who cannot drive -- like children, specially-abled people and senior citizens.

In the last few decades, where technology has taken the lead changing the way we live and execute tasks in our daily lives, this advancement was more than anticipated. For automobile industry which is staring at dropped sales in the near future owing to gloomy economy across nations, implementation of this technology would actually provide the much needed boost.

This new technology is bound to create niche segment of professionals, job opportunities with production going high and consumers who would like to have enhanced safety features on their 'voluntary' car which drives itself. Data will turn into an untapped natural resource of the new information age, and statistics would be next to only the Holy Scriptures, to learn from and find new indicators toward further growth. Any information will be perceived to have specific outcomes, and any outcome that can be tapped in the market reads m-o-n-e-y. And no company will want to leave the information without finding a use for it, in a market-driven economy which needs a breather right now.

When it materializes, driverless technology will also change the way people perceive vehicles. Our need for the vehicle is bound to change with this technology, as against the bond our previous generation shared with their vehicles. Imagine your car telling you that the grocery shopping is due, or you need to collect your clothes from the dryers and drive you straight to the doctor for a checkup that you may have forgotten to schedule!

Among the companies on the forefront of harnessing this technology, Mercedes and GM (Cadillac "Super Cruise") are currently carrying out the tests that will permit vehicles to operate autonomously on highways.

Terming this turn of events as essentially the 'combination of existing technologies, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems' Steve Garfink, of Seers Communication says the future cars will have an all-round impact on different spheres of human life, ecology, and economies of nations across the world.

According to Innovaro's report, "Automated Cars: Key Forces, Timing, and Primary Impacts," experiments to know the "profitable" side of this innovation have been underway at various locations, predominantly in the United States and United Kingdom. A pilot program is due to be launched in United Kingdom by 2015 where the self-driven cars will be allowed to play on roads demarcated for single lane lanes reserved for small cars in Milton Keynes. America is already testing self-driven cars in Nevada and issued first license to a driverless car -- Toyota Prius enabled with Google's experimental driverless technology -- in May 2012.

As for the big auto players waiting to harness upon this technology, and be the lead manufacturers when the cars are finally ready for the market, a few things are being worked out before this big moment arrives.

"General Motors and presumably Mercedes will offer this as Level 2 autonomous operation, which means that the driver is expected to maintain continuous (vigilant) monitoring of the driving environment, ready to reassume immediate manual control, much as is the case for simple cruise control," observes Garfink, terming GM and Merc as the frontrunners of the implementers of this technology.

However, the question that is being debated is to understand the point of need for Level 3 operation and safety aspects around it. These issues will play a crucial role in developing the rules for permitting autonomous operation.

In the recently conducted surveys that were done with the perspective of understanding a "driver's" experience or the end user anxiety of putting this technology inside their vehicles, that single factor that has been evident is that individuals adapt to driverless technology fairly faster than any other innovation that has changed the lives of common people for better.

Almost every auto manufacturer would eventually jump into this bandwagon. Almost every auto manufacturer in the United States or Europe have been working consistently on autonomous vehicle technologies. And, this knowledge domain is not considered exclusive since the R&D sector controlled by corporate companies is sharing the otherwise classified information. Since the moment of patenting has not arrived yet, errors are being kept to minimum, with the help of sharing of this technology across the domain through democratic channels of communication.

Entirety of technology is the fact that it is self contradicting, all the time. After having sold the cars driven manually with the tagline of the 'joy' of driving for over a 100 years, doubled with safety and smoothness, technology has now brought this concept of not having to drive at all. Reason: Changing conditions and traffic congestion have not really left an option for people to enjoy their driving time. And, chauffeurs are not an economically viable option for middle class car users. Though car pooling did come as a relief to some, it is largely a sense of perceived convenience that is at work.

Market experts anticipate the driverless vehicles or the self-driven vehicles to be available at an additional cost of $10,000 to $15,000 (minimum, no frills) over the medium-range to high-end car. If safety has a price tag, how much would the consumer be paying for it? Families that can afford this technology will certainly go for it. And for others, there are certainly banks that can make the day brighter!

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