Google co-founder Sergey Brin predicted last year that his company’s autonomous cars would be fully operational within five years, but, as the NYT points out, cars with some self-driving functions are already here:
Someday soon, few drivers will have to worry about car crashes and collisions, whether on congested roads or on empty highways, technology companies and car manufacturers are betting. But even now, drivers are benefiting from a suite of safety systems, and many more are in development to transform driving from a manual task to something more akin to that of a conductor overseeing an orchestra.
Some luxury cars currently on the market have detection systems that automatically stop the car when pedestrians cross in front of it, and four big car manufacturers (Volvo, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes) will sell cars this year that can drive themselves through heavy traffic at speeds up to 37 miles per hour.
The benefits of autonomous cars are large and important. They will save lives by reducing the number of car accidents: electronic stability control, which automatically compensates for reduced traction, has already saved more than 2,000 lives, and the impact of these new systems will be even greater. They will also save gas and reduce emissions as well as cut down on that traffic congestion we all hate.
With self-driving cars already partially a reality, Florida, Nevada, and California all passed laws last year permitting them, and Google is lobbying hard to get other states to do so. We hope they will be successful. Self-driving cars are only one of the ways in which the IT revolution is going to be seeping into daily life over the next generation, reshaping some of its most basic elements for the better.