Richard Wallace, director of Transportation Systems Analysis at Ann Arbor, Michigan's Center for Automotive Research (CAR), says Google may not be any further ahead or fully invested than automakers. The difference, he writes in an e-mail, is that "automakers do not do R&D in the public (and their competitors') eye." Wallace said Audi, Mercedes, General Motors, Toyota, Nissan, and other manufacturers "are not far off," maybe as close as 2018. Despite heavy competition, Wallace says the role of Silicon Valley in the fast-moving field is enormous.

"Google has been extremely important in bringing automated vehicle technology into the spotlight and motivating the auto industry to accelerate its development," he says. The company's recent addition of radar, a step beyond its primary, 3-D imaging technology, will increase its self-driving car's viability, he adds.

Michigan, given its automotive history, is one of the "automated technology hotbeds" Wallace identified, especially in the development of connected, vehicle-to-vehicle technology. Silicon Valley, with its no-snow weather, venture capital momentum, and dedicated-lanes infrastructure, suggests a likely location for introducing mainstream drivers to the technology that will make them non-drivers. Montemerlo and Wallace predicted that lesser forms of automation (adaptive cruise control, lane-centering, blind-spot detection, parking- and traffic-jam assist) will continue to be incrementally released.

"The average vehicle on the road today is 11.4 years old," Wallace says. "Anything more advanced that comes out in maybe 2020 will be operating in mixed traffic for a long time to come. One day, you'll find you almost never control your new vehicle. I think that is about 2025."

But why stop at a car that can merely drive itself? Montemerlo says "self-aware" cars that can cruise "driverless" are likely 10 to 15 years out. Cars that can "reason about the world" are even further on the horizon, maybe even impossible. Until a car can recognize that the driver next to us is too preoccupied with his Slurpee, humans will remain behind the wheel.

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9 comments
Steve Tidd
Steve Tidd

Dear SF Weekly, No! I will never ride in another bleeping Johnny Cab again! Regards, The Governator.

John Lilly
John Lilly

Then people could text, put on their makeup, drink and not-drive. Sounds great. Get on that.

Barry Weavers
Barry Weavers

well most of the people in the Santa Cruz can't drive properly anyway, or at least it seems impossible for them to indicate their intentions befofe lane changing or stopping feo traffic lights, so a self-drive car might improve things

Javier Leocadio Colón
Javier Leocadio Colón

No. I enjoy feeling the car. Which is why I hate driving electric cars. I like feeling the vibration of a fossil fueled engine and the sounds of the combustion propelling me down the road. I trust myself more than a computer.

NorCal Crowe
NorCal Crowe

since there isnt one from the 50s..60s...or 70s...NO!!!!

 

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