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How Soon Until the Robots Take Over? (Driving, That is…)

We truly live in a golden age of technology. Every day it seems there is a new device or discovery that is leading the way towards a bright, ergonomic future. From 3D printing to advances in computing, it seems that the world of science fiction is slowly becoming the world of science reality. One aspect, however, that hasn't seemed to advance that much in the past couple decades is the automobile. We're not saying that there haven't been steady strides in fuel efficiency, safety, and navigation, but it’s 2015! Shouldn't we have flying cars by now? Or, at the very least, cars that drive themselves?

While flying cars may be nothing more than a pipe dream, self-driving cars may be a reality sooner than you might think. According to the government, there are over 10 million auto accidents nationwide annually, with over 35,000 deaths as a direct result. While these numbers are slowly inching their way down, there is a demand for new technology to make the roads safer not just for drivers, but for pedestrians and cyclists as well.

Three companies are on the verge of making a road-worthy autonomous vehicle. Tesla, Google, and Audi all have prototypes that are in testing phase, and they all hope to unveil a fully functional self-driving car within the next couple years. A report by the Wall Street Journal says that within two decades we could see widespread use of these vehicles, leading to a decline in auto related accidents; as much as 90% in fact.

Much like the transition from horse to automobile, the transition from car to driverless car will be a slow one. However, as the technology advances and people become more comfortable with the idea of an autonomous car, it will become more and more commonplace. With this in mind, it’s easy to ask: what will the future look like with driverless cars? In addition to the noticeable reduction in accidents and fatalities, it will change the landscape of transportation forever. The Journal's report also infers that insurance companies will start to look for technical problems as opposed to driver error, and users may seek to use a pay-to-use system instead of traditional car ownership.

For now, the tests seem to be going well, but there are of course dozens of hurdles that must be overcome before they are ready for consumers. Tesla hopes to release a program update that will allow autonomous driving on highways this year, but it could run into some logistical and legal issues. Namely, if the car is driving itself and gets into an accident, who’s to blame?

While it seems that we still have to wait for these automotive automatons, it’s certainly an exciting time for car enthusiasts and automakers. What will the future hold? If only we had some kind of auto-based time machine to find out...