Self driving cars are getting serious. There are already many cars that can drive autonomously, millions miles have actually been driven with no driver at the wheel. However, to become mainstream leaving the stage of prototype, industry has to win Government approval and a new set of regulations has to be in place, covering legal aspects, including responsibility, accountability and insurance.
US and South Korea are building testing sites to help private companies running tests and to create a certification framework. The first goal is to certify level 3 cars by 2020. In some areas, like Europe, the goal might be to require car manufacturers to produce level 3 cars starting 2020 as a way to increase safety on highways.
The South Korean Government has set up a test plant, K-City, in the outskirt of Seoul, and by the end of 2017 a 4 lane highway will be available for testing level 3 cars. K-City will be completed by the end of 2018 recreating urban and suburban environment, including the narrow streets that one can still find in some Korean cities. There will be pedestrians (probably robots playing the role of people), traffic jams and road works to make testing as real as possible.
The US Government has designated 10 sites for self driving cars testing. The largest one is on the land of the airport, Willow Run, used by Ford for airplane manufacturing during World War II, and it will start operation in December 2017, with completion expected in 2018.
I find this news important because they really give the sense that we are now moving towards a different way of mobility, handing over the control to the car, and changing our perception of driving at the same time. This may take a decade but in the end the idea of “car” will no longer be the same, and it is most likely that the car industry will be completely disrupted. We won’t be buying a car for its “speed” performances, nor for its blunt acceleration. It will be a transportation means as it is a bus or a train today. And it might even end up that we will no longer feel the need to own one, no more as we feel the need to own a bus. We just take one, as we need it.