Self-driving cars might be here soon

2015-04-29 14:09

SELF-DRIVING vehicles hold the key to reducing traffic fatalities and will transform the automobile industry, predicts a top Google executive.

Ray Kurzweil, a leading expert in artificial intelligence who joined Google in 2012, told the annual Conference of the Society of Automotive Engineers that the rapidly declining cost of computing power and the advances in artificial intelligence would make autonomous driving a reality. He told the audience that autonomous driving, utilising artificial intelligence, was definitely coming.

Millions of lives saved

“The technology works. It is not far away.

“Google advised me to share with you they don’t know the answer . . . the technology is not going to be introduced until it’s ready,” Kurzweil said.

He was not, however, prepared to say just when self-driving cars would become a common sight.

The need and value of autonomous vehicles were clear, he told hundreds of the industry’s top engineers.

“Google cars have gone close to a million kilometres without incident.

“Some day an autonomous car will cause an accident and it will be big news. But while we’ve been talking, several people have died due to human drivers.”

Autonomous cars were ultimately going to save millions of lives, he said, noting that traffic accidents kill 1,2 million people worldwide each year.

“They also provide more efficient use of roads and parking lots. There are a lot of benefits.”

He said Google was not going to let its self-drive cars into the market until they were safe adding that they had to be much more reliable than the technology they replace.

Transformation needed

The appearance of the original Google Car prototype touched off a race among the world’s automakers.

Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Nissan have set up engineering centres near Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley to focus on self-driving technologies.

“People will still buy cars, but the uber model with self-driving cars will become very popular.

“We should share our cars. I think that model will grow when we have autonomous cars.

“Every company has to reinvent itself. Not everything is predictable.”

Kurzweil said that until now the transportation industry, including the automobile business, had not been considered part of the digital world.

“We see information of every kind coming into every form of transportation.”

At the same time, the price of digital information was dropping dramatically.

Kurzweil said disruptive technologies became feasible at different times. Search engines, such as the one developed by Google, became practical in the late 1990s because of the exponential growth in computing power.

Path predictable

“If you tried to build a search engine after that, you had ‘missed your opportunity’.

“If you are running a business, you can anticipate when changes will occur.

“There is one aspect of the future you can predict reliably: The price performance and the capacity of information technology follow a very predictable path and that path is exponential, not linear.”

As for slower-moving technologies like batteries – the key to more electric cars – he predicted longer-lasting batteries in ten to 15 years, at a more mature phase of nanotechnology where you can manipulate matter on the atomic level.

Other technology, such as solar power, is developing more quickly than many experts expected

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