Windshield Time

Your car: A mind of its own
Self-driving, or autonomous vehicles are about 10 years away

How old are you? If you’re 50 or younger, and you intend to remain in medical products sales, there’s a good chance you’ll be driving to your next sales call in (or being driven there by) an autonomous or self-driving vehicle.

Backup cameras and adaptive cruise control technologies are already here, reports a new U.S. Department of Commerce Report, “The Employment Impact of Autonomous Vehicles.”  The worldwide number of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) – such as backup cameras and adaptive cruise control – increased from 90 million to 140 million units between 2014 and 2016. Consumers have indicated a willingness to pay $500 to $2,500 per vehicle for ADAS.

Sensor technologies are rapidly advancing to provide sophisticated information to vehicle operating systems about the surrounding environment, such as road conditions and the location of other nearby vehicles, according to the Commerce Department report. Slower progress has been made in developing software that can mimic human driver decision-making, so that fully autonomous vehicles may not be introduced for another 10 or more years. But their arrival will change the sales rep’s day.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” on its website. Here are a few.

Q: How safe are self-driving vehicles?

A: No vehicle currently available for sale is “self-driving.” Every vehicle currently for sale in the United States requires the full attention of the driver at all times for safe operation. While an increasing number of vehicles now offer some automated safety features designed to assist the driver under specific conditions, there is no vehicle currently for sale that is fully automated or “self-driving.”

Q: What about hacking?

A: Advanced vehicle safety technologies depend on an array of electronics, sensors, and computing power. In advancing these features and exploring the potential of fully autonomous vehicles, NHTSA is focused on cybersecurity to ensure that these systems work as intended. Read about cybersecurity here.

Q: Some concept automated vehicles lack a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal. Will I be able to drive my own vehicle in the future if it is automated?

A: A vehicle that is fully automated will be capable of controlling all aspects of driving without human intervention, regardless of whether its design includes controls for a human driver. Companies may take different design approaches to fully “self-driving” vehicles that do or do not include controls allowing for a human driver. As is the case now, consumers will decide what types of vehicle designs best suit their needs.

Q: Will automated vehicles help the elderly and people with disabilities who cannot drive today?

A: Some older Americans and people with disabilities are able to drive today by adapting or modifying their vehicles to meet their specific needs. Fully automated vehicles could offer new mobility options to many more people, helping them to live independently or to better connect them to jobs, education and training, and other opportunities.

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