Each year, thousands of people in the U.S. are seriously injured or killed in motor vehicle accidents. Automakers and safety experts have long attempted to engineer cars and trucks such that drivers and passengers are kept as safe as possible in the event of a car crash. Nevertheless, accidents - and serious injuries - still occur daily. Some have suggested that the only way to stop the occurrence of accidents is to remove the driver from the equation. Up until recently, that option has not been feasible. New partnerships between car manufacturers and tech companies, however, are making it seem as if driverless cars will be available sooner than we think.
Recently, Mercedes-Benz announced that it was working with Nokia to design and develop systems that would provide maps for self-driving cars. The proposed cloud-based system, called Here, would provide automobiles with real-time information about a variety of factors based on vehicles' location. This includes not only data about traffic, but also precise information about lane width, intersection locations and other roadway information. Mercedes-Benz and Nokia did not specify a time frame within which this technology would be made available to the public.
With this announcement, Mercedes-Benz joins the likes of Ford, Nissan and even Google in attempts to develop systems that would allow for an autonomous car. Nissan has announced that it will make a driverless car available for purchase by 2020 and Google has promised a mass production vehicle by 2017.
For its part, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expressed enthusiasm for these sorts of systems. In fact, the NHTSA recently announced a partnership with University of Michigan researchers intended to yield information regarding the safety benefits of wireless technologies that would likely form the basis for autonomous vehicle systems. Of course, the NHTSA's primary concern is driver safety.
Advocates of autonomous vehicle technologies argue that computer systems are able to make decisions more quickly than human drivers and the widespread adoption of these systems would greatly improve highway safety. Unfortunately, a great deal of research remains before these claims can be put to the test. Indeed, some have pointed out that the large scale production and adoption of driverless cars would require not only hardware and software advances, but also significant changes in our highway infrastructure.
Only time will tell whether these systems will provide the safety benefits promised by automakers. Until then, safety experts remain optimistic.