Image shows Ford autonomous transport test vehicle in Miami.
Accessibility & Technology

Has the Self-Driving Car Stalled?

Oct 26, 2021

Has the Self-Driving Car Stalled?

One of the dreaded benchmarks for a person with progressive vision loss, is the inability to drive. It represents an enormous reduction in freedom and independence. Not being able to get into your own car and go where you want, when you want, is, quite literally, immobilizing. When a fully autonomous vehicle appeared on the horizon, it seemed to be the perfect compensation. This was no pipe dream, technology most certainly could give us back the ability to drive. But it has not materialized and now we are left to wonder, when? Is this vehicle a complete over promise?  Will the technology ever actually rise above the level of assisted driving?

To classify as driverless or totally autonomous, a car must be capable of sensing its environment and moving safely with little or no human input.  One of the great benefits of this super smart technology is the minimization of traffic collisions, which is also expected to significantly improve safety and reduce the cost of insurance. We can hold on to the belief that one day vehicles will drive themselves, but it’s time to get realistic with our expectations. It’s true there are cars and trucks out on the open road, right now, testing the software, but they’ve been out there for awhile and apparently not yet ready for mainstream consumption.  

Google’s autonomous automobile project began in 2009 and was spun off in 2016 as Waymo (short for a New Way Forward in Mobility). To date the company has logged 10 million miles on roads and 20 billion in simulators. In the Phoenix area, they operate the only self-driving taxi service to the public, that does not have backup safety drivers in the vehicle. They believe autonomously driven vehicles could also help people who can’t drive—whether elderly, blind, or disabled—to get around and do the things they love, and we agree. 

 

Image shows person driving Tesla on Autopilot.

Image shows person driving Tesla on Autopilot.

 

Tesla’s Autopilot has been commercially available since 2015 and is widely known for it’s consistent improvements in performance and precision. Teslas’s operating instructions clearly stipulate that drivers keep hands on the steering wheel at all times, ready to take control. As good as the technology may be, there have been too many deadly crashes attributed to an error in the software’s response. On the day this post was written, Elon Musk Tweeted a message siting ‘issues’ with the latest version of FSD, then noted, ‘this is to be expected.’

There is no shortage of work being done in this area. Fleets of self-driving cars are testing technology for Ford, General Motors, Mercedes, Jaguar, Volkswagen, BMW, Kia and Hyundai, to name just a few. Apple began developing driverless technology in 2014 and today operates the third largest fleet of test vehicles in California, behind GM and Waymo. Uber, a company that once staked its business model on self-driving cars, sold its driverless car subsidiary to Aurora Technologies, while Lyft continues to develop the sector. 

Many of these companies have projected a year in which they expect to have full self-driving cars on the road, but that we’ve learned must be taken with a grain of salt. And even when they do get some driverless cars on the road, will they be accessible to the sightless?   

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About the Author: Dorrie Rush

Dorrie Rush is the Chief Content Officer and Visual Accessibility Expert at Ophthalmic Edge Patients (OE Patients), an online resource, presented by the Association for Macular Diseases, providing practical information and empowering advice for living a full and successful life with vision loss.

She is the former Director of the Grunwald Technology Center and Information Resource Service at Lighthouse International 2001 to 2016. Dorrie is known to have an eccentric view, which is particularly useful in compensating for her central vision loss from Stargardt Disease.

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