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Friday Fun for the IT Crowd: Self-driving cars race ahead

October 16, 2015
By Lisa Dare

Recent news has made it clear that self-driving cars aren’t just fun test projects; they’re going to happen—and it’s possible the next car you buy will drive itself home from the dealership.

So after another week sitting in traffic, I need to know: When can I buy the self-driving car that’s going to get me to work? When may I cease mentally cursing all the blinker-forgetting, fast-lane-hogging, highway-throttling other drivers and concentrate on my evening snooze?

When will autonomous cars be legal?

A few states—California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada and the District of Columbia—have already created the legislation to allow self-driving cars, while in other states, it’s just not expressly illegal. Companies like Google have taken that as permission to start testing cars across the country.

While the safety of drivers and pedestrians encountering auto-piloted cars has lawmakers concerned, perhaps they should worry more about your neighbor’s newly licensed teenager. Automated technologies have a long history of making people nervous—but they perform better than human operators.

Our squeamishness about turning over the reins (or brakes) to a computer is largely unfounded since user error causes significantly more accidents than most computers do. An interesting NPR podcast used a comparison to early elevator technologies to make the point that people have always been slow to adopt automated technology, even when it saves lives.

When will self-driving cars be available for sale?

The realistic—if sadly cautious—answer from IT analyst giant Gartner is that consumer adoption will happen within 5–10 years, but only 3 percent of new cars sold in 2020 will be self-driving.

But a tantalizing new invention may have found a way to shorten the timeline for widespread adoption. University of California at Berkeley researchers announced they’ve created a new kind of laser, the sensors used to “see” objects around cars, that are lighter, smaller, less energy-consuming—and much cheaper than the ones used in current research models.

Google takes Austin—and automotive manufacturers—by surprise

As playful little Google cars learn to navigate Austin’s horizontal road signs, pedicabs and deer population, Google is getting serious about its auto-making ambitions.

Apparently Google is planning to, you know, actually sell its self-driving car in the foreseeable future. Google made it official this month when it hired a former Hyundai chief as CEO of its self-driving cars unit.

A boon for software developers

Google’s moves have put real fear into established automakers. In response to Google’s burgeoning ambitions in the auto arena, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have initiated huge hiring sprees of developers to start working on software for their own autonomous cars.

Apple revs its engines

Apple is doing some notable hiring of its own—the company made waves when it decided to triple its auto team. It has already stocked the unit with a bevy of engineers from a big-battery maker, as well as at least 60 engineers and other employees from Tesla.

The company just committed to building its own electric car by 2019, and has spawned lots of speculation it would enter the self-driving market by meeting with the California DMV and investigating autonomous vehicle testing grounds. There have also been rumors of a potential partnership with Tesla.  Apple reportedly thinks it can use its sensor and battery savvy to compete in this market.

Apple, Tesla and Google aren’t the only ones entering the race. Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, BMW and Honda already have official permission to test autonomous cars in California.

More technology news

September IT Roundup: The future of mobile devices 

Technology Throwback Thursday: Special effects killed the radio star 

Lisa Dare is a writer for TEKsystems who enjoys learning about IT from some of the smartest folks in tech. The harried but amused mother of two small boys, Lisa frequently blogs about IT careers and the lighter side of technology.

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