18 November, 2015
You know how much your telephone has changed over the past 10 years? Your car will change even more than that in the next 10 years.
One of the big changes is that cars will drive themselves. Some day you may not need to drive a car. You will just tell the car where you want to go and it will drive itself.
"We definitely have the technology for it now," says Andrew Poliak of automotive technology supplier QNX. "We expect self-driving cars to be a mainstream thing between 2020 and 2025."
The American company Google has been working on a self-driving automobile for years. These cars are already on the roads in the United States, mainly in California.
Google cars are truly self-driving. These cars have no steering wheels or pedals.
Last week, police ordered one of Google's cars to stop for driving too slowly on a public road. The car was not violating any law, so no one was punished. But police did speak with the operators of the vehicle.
According to Google, its self-driving cars have been driven nearly 2 million kilometers. That is equal to the distance the average person drives in 90 years.
So far, no Google self-driving car has gotten a traffic ticket. Some of them have been in accidents when other cars hit them.
Here is a video showing Google's self-driving car.
Another American company, Tesla, added an "Autopilot" feature to its cars last month. Tesla put the feature, a computer software program, in cars that were built after September 2014.
With the Autopilot turned on, the vehicle drives itself. The car will speed up, slow down, brake and steer by itself.
You can take over driving any time by turning the steering wheel or touching a pedal.
This video shows Michael Ballaban trying the Tesla Autopilot feature.
Your car will slow down if the vehicle in front of you gets closer. It will turn at bends and change lanes if you use the turn signal.
The car uses sensors to know when lane changing is safe and whether it should speed up or slow down.
Tesla Autopilot takes over driving at speeds over 29 kilometers per hour when you press a button twice.
Autopilot is made for cross-country driving. It keeps you in the lane and helps you avoid hitting other cars.
Autopilot does not work as well on local roads. It will not stop at a red light or stop sign or turn at intersections.
Reporter Carolyn Nicander Mohr tried the Autopilot feature of a Tesla earlier this month. She had a hard time trusting the car to do what it should do.
She thought about disabling the Autopilot feature many times during her trip. She wanted to take control at every bend in the road and hit the brake when the car in front of her slowed down.
Yet the car drove perfectly.
Other Self-Driving Cars, Trucks and Buses
Other companies are working on self-driving cars. Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Volvo and Toyota all have plans for such vehicles.
A company called BestMile plans to operate self-driving buses in Switzerland next spring. The buses will hold up to nine people and will be tested for two years.
Mercedes-Benz is developing large self-driving trucks for long trips. These trucks use drivers to control them.
A company called Royal will have self-driving trucks at construction sites in Florida by the end of this year. No drivers are needed in these vehicles.
Advantages of Self-Driving Cars
According to The Auto Insurance Center, 81% of car crashes result from human error. Many lives could be saved if cars drove more safely without human drivers.
With fewer accidents, insurance costs may be lower for self-driving cars than other vehicles.
In a self-driving car, you would not have to be worried about talking on the phone or sending a text message. You could do other things while getting to where you need to go.
Traffic may be reduced. Cars could flow more smoothly, with fewer cars on the road during busy times.
Fewer accidents mean improving traffic conditions, and reducing delays, repairs and injuries.
Speed limits could rise with more people using self-driving cars. When self-driving cars prove they can operate at higher speed limits, speed limits could be raised.
Self-driving cars could drive people who are unable to drive themselves. They could travel without depending on others.
Businesses could use self-driving cars to bring goods to your home. Order food and have a self-driving car transport it. Send the store your shopping list and wait for the store's self-driving car to bring your order to you.
You may not need to own a car. A self-driving car could come to your home when you order it.
You could sign up for a service that permit you a set number of kilometers, hours, or trips per month and have a car show up when and where you needed it. You could order small cars for single-rider short trips and larger cars for family trips.
Criticism of Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars may cost a lot more than other cars. The self-driving feature may first be offered on the most costly cars.
Lower priced vehicles may take longer to offer the feature.
But the cost of technology usually drops over time. Expect that self-driving cars could become less costly in the future.
For self-driving cars to become the norm, people have to trust them. Drivers have to become familiar with these cars and what they can do.
Many laws need to be changed to permit use of self-driving cars.
Who is responsible when a self-driving car has an accident? Lawmakers will need to consider who is responsible when a self-driving car has an accident.
According to Forbes, Volvo has said it will accept responsibility when its self-driving cars have an accident.
Other Tech Advances in Driving [Infographic]
Want to know what else the future holds for driving? Check out this infographic:
Would you like to ride in a self-driving car? Would you ride in a self-driving bus? Do you think self-driving cars will become the standard?
Share your thoughts in the Comments Section below or on 51VOA.COM!
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Carolyn Nicander Mohr wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
definitely - adv. without question; in a way that is sure or clear
mainstream – n. the thoughts, beliefs, and choices that are accepted by the largest number of people
pedal – n. a flat piece of metal, rubber, etc., that you push with your foot to make a machine move, work, or stop
autopilot – n. a device that directs a ship, aircraft, or spacecraft in place of a person
feature – n. an interesting or important part, quality or ability
lane – n. a part of road that is marked by painted lines and that is for a single line of vehicles
intersection – n. the place or point where two or more things come together, especially the place where two or more streets meet or cross each other
brake – n. a device for slowing or stopping something (such as a wheel or vehicle)
construction site – n. a place where a building is being build or repaired
error – n. something that is not correct; a wrong action or mistake
norm - n. short for normal
infographic – n. an image that is used to represent information
* Tesla image courtesy of Wikipedia
** Future of Driving infographic courtesy of C R Allen & Sons