Next time you're on your way to get an oil change, how would you like to relax and read a book? No, you're not sitting in the passenger seat - you're behind the wheel, only the car itself is doing the driving.
By now, you've probably heard of the autonomous, or driverless, vehicle. Major companies like Google, Mercedes-Benz and Ford are all working on their own versions, and some pundits are saying that the future is autonomous. But is it really? And how close are we to a highway full of driverless cars?
Going driverless has its reasons
A key factor in the push toward autonomous vehicles is the motivation. Why are companies doing this? It's not just for PR - driverless cars can be more cost-effective, functional and practical, if done right.
For example, a study recently conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, found that autonomous taxis would be beneficial for the economy and the environment. The findings showed that a self-driving, electric taxi would have fewer emissions by as much as 82 percent compared to a hybrid vehicle.
"Driverless cars may be better suited for commercial needs."
Autonomous taxis could also be tailored to your specific needs, so you'd get one that's most practical for the time and distance you'd be on the road. The perks were further explained by Berkeley Lab scientist Jeffrey Greenblatt.
"When we first started looking at autonomous vehicles, we found that, of all the variables we could consider, the use of autonomous vehicles as part of a shared transit system seemed to be the biggest lever that pointed to lower energy use per mile," he noted.
Autonomous progress is underway
The taxi concept is interesting. Commercial purposes have been a main factor behind self-driving vehicle development at the moment, with driverless tractor trailers, work vans, taxis and similar vehicles most practical right now.
Google has gained significant ground with their autonomous prototypes. According to the Associated Press, Google has begun testing more self-driving cars in Austin, Texas. Ford has also taken steps forward, currently developing technology to get its driverless cars on the road.
So then, how soon will you be behind the wheel, so to speak? You'll have to wait a while. Driverless cars are a ways off, in part due to regulations, insurance, safety and other concerns. Who is at fault when two autonomous vehicles collide? Will the insurance company pay for the auto repair? Will you?
These are questions that need to be answered before driverless cars hit the road, and that's only when the technology is ready. Right now, reading a book while your car drives you to work is still a vision of the future.