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Self-Driving Cars

May 17, 2021 | Trends

On Sunday evening, Apr. 18, 2021, two men were killed when a 2019 Tesla Model S traveling at high speed hit a tree and burst into flames. Initial reports suggested that no one was in the front seat. Media judgment was swift, with an NBC News headline blaring, “2 dead in Tesla crash after car ‘no one was driving’ hits tree, authorities say.”
  • Houston NTSB report – The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) preliminary report, however, states that the car’s owner was seated in the driver’s seat, with his companion in the front passenger seat, which contradicts initial reports of no one behind the wheel. And although the Model S was equipped with Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist technology, it could not have been enabled at that location.
  • Uber self-driving car – In 2018, after 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was killed by an Uber self-driving car, becoming the first pedestrian death caused by an autonomous vehicle, media judgment was swift, with USA Today reporting “Uber self-driving car kills Arizona pedestrian, realizing worst fears of the new tech.”
  • Walter Huang – A few days later, Apple engineer Walter Huang was killed when his Tesla Model X struck a median barrier. Tesla reported that the 38-year-old driver’s hands were not on the steering wheel in the six seconds before the crash. It was the second driver killed in a Tesla while in “Autopilot” mode.
  • Daily automobile deaths – These four deaths garnered massive media attention because, in each instance, innovative self-driving technology failed to prevent an accident from happening. Yet none of the Tesla accident reports mention the more than 90 people killed each day in automobile accidents.
  • Airplane pioneers – How many people today remember Lt. Thomas Selfridge? Or Eugene Burton Ely? On Sept. 17, 1908, Selfridge was flying with Orville Wright when the plane’s propeller hit a wire 75 feet in the air, throwing the plane out of control and killing Selfridge while seriously injuring Wright. Ely died in a crash during a demonstration flight at the Georgia State Fair on October 19, 1911. Imagine if the history of aviation ended there.
  • Safer cars – There is no question that new car technology has contributed to safer cars. In the decade preceding 2013, the number of traffic fatalities declined 25% to 32,719. A sharp rise in automobile deaths during the 2020 pandemic, estimated at 42,060, is being attributed to fewer cars on the road encouraging riskier driving behaviors.
  • Distractions – Many drivers are easily distracted by digital devices and screensucking, a major impediment to car safety. Autonomous cars would allow drivers to safely use their smartphone more, which is among the top self-driving activities cited by consumers:

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There has been much speculation as to when mass-produced self-driving cars would arrive. According to Ars Technica, Waymo (pictured above) is the only company that has launched a fully driverless commercial taxi service. It is the No. 1 bet to introduce fully driverless cars.

While Tesla captures most of the headlines in terms of self-driving, its cars hover somewhere above level 3 automation, out of a five-level system. Tesla offers two self-driving packages: “Enhanced Autopilot” ($4,000) and a full self-driving (FSD) package for $8,000.

Grand View Research predicts that the global advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) market will reach $67 billion by 2025, underscoring the massive infusion of technology that will further invade automotive design.

Driving and robotics were made for each other, and the impact of self-driving cars on traffic accidents should be evident by 2035. Meanwhile, drive safely.


Ubertrend Categorization: Digital Lifestyle.

Michael Tchong’s Ubertrends book
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