Automobiles are being manufactured to make everything easier for drivers; they come installed with navigation, hands-free phones, and numerous other features that help to keep drivers safe. But where will the future lead with this kind of technology? Mercedes-Benz is already producing cars that are already equipped with “anticipatory driving,” which is meant to analyze the road to improve battery performance in hybrid cars. In addition, Mercedes-Benz has also joined Google and Delphi, among other companies, in producing driverless cars and trucks. But where will technology take cars and drivers in the future?
Ride hailing services such as Uber and Lyft have contributed to the role the internet plays in transportation. Urban Millennials may never again have to buy a car because of these ride-for-hire companies that can pick customers up on the fly and bring them to their destination efficiently and quickly. Robotic taxis are also under study to see what benefit such high-tech machines may have for society. Interestingly, a study by the Earth Institutes at Columbia University demonstrates that robotic taxis would cost considerably less to operate than human-driven vehicles. But one large question remains: what about all those jobs that would be lost if cars were operated robotically instead of by human beings?
New Technologies for Auto Insurance?
Progressive, a major auto insurance company, recently introduced a new system that can determine how much money a driver must pay in insurance by studying their braking patterns. Drivers can save up to 30% on their premiums based on their driving performance, which indicates that safe drivers are finally being rewarded for their safe driving habits. These programs have many skeptics, however, because there is a concern that insurance companies will unfairly scrutinize people in setting premiums. That being said, it seems as though riskier drivers will end up paying more on their premiums due to their unsafe driving behaviors. But what constitutes a risky driver? The amount of miles traveled daily may play a factor into calculating the riskiness of drivers; companies like Metromile have already started to use mileage data when determining auto insurance premiums. These programs seem superb in theory because, once again, the determination of driver risk would no longer rely solely on credit score or education.
With all of the glitz and glamour that comes with great technological improvements, there are significant negatives like threats from malicious hackers who could easily gain access into “smart city” technologies. For example, the threat of a cyber-attack on our traffic systems and traffic lights has become a reality in the United States. The infrastructure of heavily-populated U.S. cities is at real risk from hackers whose goals are detrimental to the inhabitants of those cities. Other viruses or bugs have caused havoc in the past, such as in 2006 when San Francisco’s public transportation system closed down and trapped passengers underground. In a recent study, over 200,000 control sensors for traffic flow in D.C., New York, and San Francisco were found to be vulnerable to attack. However, steps have been taken to prevent these catastrophes from happening. Initiatives like “Securing Smart Cities” set out to protect the vulnerabilities of smart cities, while alert systems in in San Francisco notify jurisdictions if a specific county endures a cyber-attack.
While there is a lot of attention paid to the technology built into automobiles, people rarely speak about the technology that goes into roads they drive on. Sensors and systems are being built into roads to create situations where drivers and cars can anticipate issues with the road surface before they become a problem. IBM has claimed to have reduced traffic by 25% in Stockholm, Sweden by examining traffic systems and informing the public on the most efficient times to drive. The goal of smarter roads and systems is for steady flow that can help reduce the amount of traffic and the amount of collisions on the road.
Mercedes-Benz has recently introduced a semi-autonomous car with a steering assist feature that allows a vehicle to basically drive itself on freeways. This innovative driving feature, which is included in the Mercedes S550, allows the car to center itself within any lane and automatically brake and steer to keep up with the pace of traffic. However, the S550 does not fully drive itself, meaning the driver still needs to pay attention to the road. The S550 does not handle sharp turns well, so completely ignoring the road and relying on the car to drive itself is not a smart idea. To combat the complacency drivers may feel while sitting in a semi-autonomous car, Mercedes installed an alarm which goes off when the driver has taken their hands off the wheel for more than 10 seconds.
Semi-autonomous cars are becoming cheaper and more widely available each year, and are setting the stage for future fully autonomous cars. But would fully autonomous cars be a real benefit to society?
Smartphone-enabled carpooling could help to reduce the effect automobiles have on the environment by increasing the amount of passengers per car which, in turn, decreases the amount of cars on the road. Other for-hire transportation services like Uber and Lyft have changed the way we think about transportation in the city. Smartphones allow Uber drivers to receive directions automatically through GPS before the customer even sits in the car (increasing the efficiency of its rides), and Uber also guarantees payment to its drivers through the customer’s credit card. Although the perception of all ride-hailing services is that these innovative services are the cheapest option, some public transportation services have comparable or even cheaper rates. Could you imagine cities with only taxis and for-hire vehicles on the streets?
Smart roads, smartphones, and smart cities are indeed redefining the way we look at both transportation and the relationship between technology and how we get around in a city. Also, we must now look differently at how we purchase auto insurance. All of this new technology, from smartphones to semi-autonomous cars, aims to make the driving experience more efficient and safe. However, even with safety measures taken, human error is still present with these systems. Semi-autonomous cars may very well be paving the way for a future of automatic cars, and the country is anxious to see the future of transportation.