Silicon Valley isn’t the only place where people understand the extraordinary promise of driverless cars. Beijing is also pursuing the disruptive new technology, and as the New York Times reports, this new, paradigm shifting transportation option could make its biggest splash in China:
[S]ome argue that conditions in China are actually more favorable for quick adoption of driverless cars, in part because of more aggressive support from the national and local governments. And, unlike in the United States, China never fully developed a romance with the open road and car ownership. […]
Research done by the Boston Consulting Group suggests that within 15 years China will be the largest market for autonomous vehicles, said Xavier Mosquet, a managing director at the firm. Automated taxis will most likely lead the trend. […]
Even as American companies like Google and Tesla work on autonomous vehicles, a number of Chinese companies are working on driverless car technology. The Internet company Leshi Internet Information & Technology (better known as Letv) has a driverless car tech unit, and the Chinese carmaker Great Wall Motors has opened a research center in Silicon Valley. The assumed leader in the field in China is the search engine company Baidu, which has been at work on autonomous vehicles since 2013.
Worldwide, car crashes kill an estimated 1.2 million people every year and injure another 50 million more, and road crashes are the leading cause of death for people aged 15-29. This is extraordinary—if nuclear power plants were killing people at this rate, or if global warming were knocking people off like this the uproar would be deafening. But as it is… crickets!
Driverless cars will reduce this toll immensely. Simply from the standpoint of public health, this is one of the lowest hanging fruits out there. Add what it will do for the environment (by reducing CO2 emissions thanks to less congestion, reducing infrastructure costs, and reducing the number of cars families will need as Uber-ized self driving vehicles cut down on the need to purchase cars that stay empty more than 90 percent of the time), and it’s easy to find oneself well and truly excited about this future.
In a rational world, governments would be pushing the development of driverless car technology harder than they push fuel economy standards. This would be (and ought to be) a top priority. So if China is getting into the game, excellent—the more the merrier. There are few breakthroughs that would do more to reduce premature death, ease tragic suffering, and make the world a better place than the rapid development and implementation of this technology.