We see them on the road every day: drivers who are talking on their phones, texting, eating, shaving, and even changing outfits. These drivers are partly the inspiration for some of the safety technology that is coming into vehicles.
It’s a pretty safe assumption that these types of behaviors behind the wheel will not change anytime soon. That’s why I foresee a future that allows people who do these activities while they’re driving to do them in a much safer way.
For example, here’s a very plausible scenario:
Let’s say a driver knows that he or she is facing a 20-mile freeway commute and traffic is creeping along at a blistering 20 miles per hour. Instead of becoming a distracted driver, the vehicle operator joins a platooning of vehicles, (linked cars in a train-like group following behind one lead car), all headed toward a similar geographical destination and using capabilities like adaptive cruise control. By doing this, regardless of speed variations of the traffic flow, the car maintains a safe and constant distance between the cars in the front and to the sides and ensures that it doesn’t drift from lane to lane.
This actually opens up the possibility of allowing the car to drive itself so the driver can safely attend to those other activities mentioned above. At Intel, we believe there’s always a safer way to approach these types of situations. We can create a more productive—and fun—driving experience, and do it in a way that isn’t going to put people in harm’s way.
Will the technology to make this scenario real ever be available? Absolutely. It will, and here’s why: automakers are talking more and more about delivering vehicles that are able to drive autonomously. There is a bit of a space race going on right now and the competition will drive innovation to make safe autonomous driving a reality.
Keep in mind, there’s a big difference between an autonomous vehicle and a vehicle that can drive autonomously. I don’t think car manufacturers are thinking they’ll produce a car that will drive our kids to school each morning after we kiss them goodbye. But I know that a majority of OEMs are thinking about how a driver, if they choose, can turn control of the vehicle over to the on-board system. On autopilot, if you will.
In fact, we’ve heard many OEMs talk about their vision for this technology and even make promises that we’ll see it on the road by 2020. Seven years is not long in the automotive industry, so there’s a lot of engineering, standardization, and policy implementation that needs to be sorted out between now and then to bring this safer way to drive to market. But it will get here, and I predict it will get here even sooner than 2020.
When do you think autonomous cars will be on the market? Do you think this scenario is realistic or not? Why?