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How Will Kids Use Driverless Cars?

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【Summary】Sending your children to school in an autonomous vehicle would be exponentially safer, compared to letting them navigate around the city on foot. All you would have to do is set the car to go to school and strap your kid in the seat.

Original Michael Cheng    Jan 12, 2017 6:12 AM PT
How Will Kids Use Driverless Cars?

Self-driving cars are ultimately designed for senior citizens, individuals with disabilities and children. With increased mobility options, all groups will be able to extend their reach and assert their independency. Kids may not seem like reliable candidates for driverless vehicles, but hear me out for a second.

School kids based in populated cities around the US take the subway without a guardian or parents – that's just the way society works. Sending your children to school in an autonomous vehicle would be exponentially safer, compared to letting them navigate around the city on foot. All you would have to do is set the car to go to school and strap your kid in the seat. For peace of mind, you could track the vehicle on your smartphone. Without steering wheels or gas pedals (in a fully autonomous, SAE L4-L5 vessel), your kid can't tamper with the controls.

"Sharing the roads will be a key stage in the journey towards possible mass acceptance of self-driving cars," explained Matt Burt from MSN News. "16% of those who responded to Ford's questions said they would be happy to let children travel alone in an autonomous car."

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No Experience Needed

The scenario above is what motivates developers in the driverless car sector. Automakers predict that, eventually, teenagers will not need to acquire a driver's license when an autonomous vehicle can usher them around safely. According to the CDC, excessive drinking in underage youths causes up to 4,300 deaths per year – now imagine a drunk teenager with limited driving skills trying to get home quickly before his or her curfew expires, it's a reality that keeps worried parents awake at night.

So when will we see self-driving cars chauffer around kids and teenagers? Henrik Christensen, director of the University of California San Diego's Contextual Robotics Institute, predicts it will happen in 10-15 years. During this transition period, human-driven vehicles will get phased out by modern, driverless cars. Road infrastructure must also be updated to accommodate self-driving vessels, which includes vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) networks.

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Family Testing

Volvo, a car brand known for having above average safety features, is pioneering the application of driverless vehicles for families. The automaker recently announced that it will start testing its fleet of autonomous vehicles on ordinary families based in Gothenburg, Sweden. Instead of engineers collecting data behind a computer, the company will test how everyday consumers use the vehicles. The program is part of the Drive Me project – a large collaborative effort by private and public groups to pilot up to 100 driverless cars in Gothenburg.

So far, the business has not released any information about the results of the program. But if all goes as planned, Volvo could have a fully autonomous car ready by 2021.

"What's more likely is that some children born today, in some places, will never need to drive a car. That's already true in places like Manhattan, where public transport options have long made it feasible to live car-free, and where a bevy of new car services makes ditching private automobile ownership even easier," said Michael Coren from Quartz Media.

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