One Big Question: Will kids being born today need to learn how to drive?

One Big Question: Will kids being born today need to learn how to drive?
Will cars ever be smart enough that we can read the paper instead of the road while we're driving?
Will cars ever be smart enough that we can read the paper instead of the road while we're driving?
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Will cars ever be smart enough that we can read the paper instead of the road while we're driving?
Will cars ever be smart enough that we can read the paper instead of the road while we're driving?

With companies like Google and Volvo working hard to bring self-driving cars to reality, the question of "if" has solidly morphed into one of "when" regarding the technology. Will robotic cars be so prevalent in the next decade or two that our children won't ever need to get driver's licenses?

As part of our regular "One Big Question" series, we put a very similar question to Steven Shladover at the University of California, Berkeley. Shladover is a research engineer who was instrumental in creating California's PATH program (Partners for Advanced Transportation Technologies), whose mission is to "develop solutions that address the challenges of California's surface transportation systems through advanced ideas and technologies and with a focus on greater deployment of those solutions throughout California."

The exact question we put to Shladover and his response follows.

With the advent of driverless cars, will parents today even need to teach their kids how to drive?

Don't expect your children (or even your grandchildren) to grow up without learning how to drive. Although a lot of progress is being made in the development of technologies to automate portions of the driving task under limited conditions, it will be a very, very long time before technology is able to completely replace human drivers under the full range of driving conditions.

Driving is a remarkably complex task that depends on sophisticated perception of the road environment, prediction of the future motions of all the other users sharing that environment (not only other drivers, but also child and adult pedestrians, cyclists and animals) and complex decision making under uncertainty. The complexity of the software that will be needed to implement these functions under the full range of traffic, weather and road conditions far exceeds that of existing software that has been applied in safety-critical conditions. The technology does not exist to design, develop, verify and validate the safety of software of this complexity, and a great deal of fundamental research will be needed to achieve the knowledge required to assure the safety of this software.

None of us would want our children to ride in automated vehicles that are less safe than typical drivers of today, nor would we want to share the road with such vehicles. We need to understand how safe driving is today as a baseline for specifying the safety of automated vehicles.

Based on the U.S. traffic safety statistics, fatal crashes occur an average of once in every 3.3 million hours of driving (representing 375 years of continuous 24/7 driving) and injury crashes occur on average of once in about 65,000 hours of driving (over 7 years of continuous 24/7 driving). Compare those numbers with the average length of time between dropped calls on your mobile phone, or software glitches on your laptop or tablet computer to see how large a gulf remains between today's software and the software that will be needed to safely take over the complete driving task.

We have many opportunities to improve driving comfort, convenience, efficiency and safety through use of automation technology, but those opportunities will for the foreseeable future depend on the automation technology operating in collaboration with a properly skilled human driver for the large majority of applications. There may be some niche applications in which drivers are not needed, but those are likely to be specialized situations such as low-speed urban circulation systems or trucks or buses operating on their own special infrastructure separated from other traffic.

Sean-Anthony Sutherland
If he's from the future, why is reading a newspaper. Shouldn't it be an iPad or something?
There is a tendency for critics of autonomous vehicles to evaluate the technology based on self driving vehicles and standard vehicles sharing the road together. They should not share the road. Because it is the human element that creates the uncertainty in driving behavior. Just as we had to make a cut off date for standard TV, we have to set a cut off date for humans driving. Automonous vehicles will improve energy conservation, efficiency of our roadways and safety. Eliminate human drivers and we could have automonous vehicles on the road today.
I sure hope so. I don't know how we tolerate 100 people dead every day.
Just the same way we teach our kids how to change a tire, they should learn to drive a car just in case . . . . . oh wait, no one does that any more either, they call a 'road service' guy to do it nowadays . . .
I've mentioned this topic to my teenagers recently, that the physical driving of cars may be limited in the next ten years or so but that may be rushing it. Of course, their response is what you'd expect, lol. And no doubt, they're not alone. This topic is complicated. Politics aside, technically, I'm not so sure it has to be done only one way. We have no idea what a.i. in a vehicle will be like ten or twenty years on. Perhaps humans will be able to share space with driver-less vehicles or share in some places but not others. With the help of networking between vehicles, they could tell each other to "look out for the human", hahaha. Obviously, it won't work for everyone at the beginning and it won't work well everywhere. And obviously, it's something that could be ripe for exploitation both politically and economically. It has a lot going for it though if lives could be saved. Just thinking out loud. To answer the original question - hard to say. We may be rushing things a wee bit.
Rann Xeroxx
To get to true autonomous driving, we would need to maintain our roads like the Germans do the Autobahn. American roads, for the most part, are crap in comparison.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
There will have to be automated zones that work kind of like controlled air space. There will need to be a handoff process to determine which vehicles enter the automated zone.
Michael Wilson
Kids still learn how to change tires and kids 18 years from now will probably still have to learn how to drive. I honestly don't see self-driving cars for at least 30 years. By then, I probably won't care, but you can have my wheel when you pry it form my cold, dead fingers.
I'm very glad that leaders agree that everyone should continue to learn to drive. _No_ automated vehicle should ever be made without a steering wheel and pedals. For the future, it would be great if all free way driving was automated. It would reduce traffic times immensely. @Helios: Breakdowns of the automation would likely be common, especially during ramp-up, and self-drive would be mandatory. Software can be tweaked for this and it would still increase throughput of traffic by a good bit. I was watching Demolition Man the other night and thought the autonomous vehicles there were designed just right, allowing for manual control when necessary. SanAngeles is coming, folks. (A single large city composed of all areas between Santa Barbara and San Diego. Scary, wot? ;)
Right now, the law puts the driver ( the one behind the steering wheel) in charge and at fault, if necessary. Given the pace lawmakers work at, the self drive car makers will have plenty of time to get their systems right, so you better teach your kid to drive and have good knowledge of road rules while we are waiting.
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