Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Autonomous cars - sooner than you think

The US state of Nevada has just passed legislation  that would allow autonomous cars on it highways by March 2012. An operator of an autonomous vehicle would still need a current state driver’s license. The law defines an autonomous vehicle as “a car that uses artificial intelligence, sensors and GPS to coordinate itself without active intervention by a human operator.” The law also acknowledges that the driver does not need to be actively attentive if the car is driving itself. Without the law, inattentive driving would likely land you with some sort of reckless driving citation under the guise of previous laws.
The Stadtpilot autonomous car drives in Braunschweig, Germany

Why should we encourage the development of autonomous cars? Consider this, the US has lost 6,279 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Last year 33,000 people lost their lives in road traffic accidents in the US! The United Nations estimated in 2004 that 1.2 million people were killed and a further 50 million injured on the world’s roads. China recorded 96,000 deaths and India 105,000 traffic deaths. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of injury death amongst children worldwide, and even in the US they are the sixth leading preventable cause of death. Clearly, if we can do something to stop this carnage, we should. It turns out people are lousy drivers.