Driverless Cars: Coming to Your Street Sooner Than You Think

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Driverless Cars: Coming to Your Street Sooner Than You Think

In just one generation of drivers, the experience of driving a car has evolved dramatically.  A typical economy-class car now includes such standard features as automatic transmission, power windows, and cruise control.  Higher-end models offer intelligent transportation systems, such as enhanced cruise control and self-parking technology.  According to Businessweek,1 the demand for such intelligent transportation systems has grown into a $48 billion industry in the U.S.

But while all of those improvements make driving easier than ever, they are designed with human drivers in mind.  By the end of this decade, that will begin to change, and we’ll witness the biggest change in personal transportation since the Model T replaced the carriage horse.  Thanks to the rapid acceleration of technological progress, cars will begin to drive themselves.

At Trends, we’ve been following the progress of this technology for more than a decade.  We’re now pleased to report that all of the necessary trends — in demographics, psychology, and technology — are finally converging to make driverless cars a reality:

  • First, demographic trends support the need for autonomous vehicles.  The aging of the population is increasing the demand for cars that will enable drivers with weakened eyesight and slower reflexes to remain both mobile and independent.  At the other end of the age spectrum, young people are increasingly reluctant to drive.  According to the National Household Travel Survey, the number of vehicle miles traveled by Americans aged 16 to 34 dropped 23 percent during the past decade.2
  • Second, consumers of all ages are increasingly becoming prepared psychologically to cede control of the steering wheel.  Self-parking technology, crash-avoidance systems, and telematics have made consumers comfortable with intelligent transportation systems.
  • Third, the key supporting technologies of a driver-less car system are now in place.  The “Internet of things” and improved GPS technology have paved the way for vehicles that know exactly where they are and can report their status to other vehicles around them.  Enormous geographic databases such at Google Maps and its “StreetView” feature enable vehicles to recognize landmarks and synchronize them with GPS data.  The relentless advance of Moore’s law has made the necessary computing power available at very low cost.  Wireless communication infrastructure has made instant access to databases and sensor networks shared between multiple vehicles a cost-effective reality...

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