Just how close is the future of self-driving cars?

Is the robot car apocalypse getting even closer?

Future of self-driving carsThere have been a spate of announcements involving big players making what looks to be really significant commitments to self-driving cars. In January, General Motors announced the creation of a special team backed by a large budget to spearhead self-driving cars.  The U.S. government declared $4 billion to fund autonomous research. And Great Britain committed $30 million in the immediate future to develop important aspects of self-driving tech. Simultaneously, Jaguar Land Rover announced its decision to trial self-driving cars on British roads.

Not only that, in the past month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. regulator in charge of defining who and what gets to drive on American roads, publicly argued that the autonomous car itself —or rather the computer controlling it— should be defined as the “driver” instead of any human occupants.

These are all huge steps, and it might seem like the reality of self-driving cars is right around the corner.   Except, it’s not and it will need your help to get here.

Self-driving cars: Are we there yet?

When asked about self-driving cars at the annual Ted conference in Vancouver, Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, somewhat surprisingly said it would be a long transition that would see self-driving vehicles “work in certain places and not in others” (surprisingly, because his company has often been seen as one of most zealous self-driving advocates). But Kalanick also reminded the audience why self-driving cars would and should eventually arrive: “This is a world that is going to exist and for good reason,” he added, reminding the audience about the hundreds of hours wasted by drivers in traffic and the 1 million people who die every year in cars.  “It is a world that is going to exist and it is going to be a better world,” he said.

As Tristan Sender of GoGet Carshare has also said, self-driving will likely be introduced gradually and in cities purpose-built around cars that drive themselves or as options for self-driving only lanes on highways. Why?  Because the trickiest part of self-driving cars is integrating them into a real world roadscape where they are forced to mix with human drivers and juggle constantly changing conditions.

GoGet's self-driving car

GoGet’s self-driving car – Ethel the Yaris

That’s why GoGet’s focus has been on learning how self-driving cars might actually work on Australian roads. The partnership with UNSW that created Ethel the Robot Car ADD LINK was GoGet’s first foray. Now, the carshare service is also supporting researchers at the University’s TRACSLabs, who have designed a project to examine the risk of self-driving cars and the impact of driver choices on their operation. All research is conducted in a simulator, and is totally safe. Even better, participants are compensated for their time and effort. The study is open to all Australians over 18, with a valid provisional or full Australia/overseas drivers licence. The study is expected to take 1.5 hours, and will take place at TRACSLab at UNSW.

If you want to do more than just follow the Robot apocalypse shoot an email over to tracslab@unsw.edu.au and mention Driving Simulator Study in the subject. For more info about TRACSLab and their projects, take a read here.

 

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