I’ve written a bit previously about the transition between the cars we have today that are largely driven by humans and the cars of the future that will be fully automated.
A couple of startups have emerged to help with that transition by enabling regular cars to become driverless. Otto is an effort forged by a team of ex-Google employees, whilst Oxbotica are an Oxford University spin-out company.
Of course, this transition has not just interested the commercial world, with a number of academic studies also exploring the matter. For instance, one study has examined the ease with which control of the car can alternate between man and machine.
A second study, by researchers from Carnegie Mellon, explores the potential benefits of such a hybrid approach to automation.
The researchers examined the possible impact of features such as blind spot monitoring or collision warning systems, in addition to more established technologies such as autonomous braking.
“While there is much discussion about driverless vehicles, we have demonstrated that even with partial automation there are financial and safety benefits,” the authors say.
The researchers performed a cost-benefit analysis of deploying such features across the entire light-duty fleet in the United States. It’s believed that such technologies could help to prevent around 25% of accidents, or 1.3 million incidents per year.
The study examined government and insurance data to produce two distinct estimates of benefits. In one scenario they assumed that such driver support technologies would avoid all accidents, whilst in the second scenario they measured the impact of the technologies on both the number and the severity of accidents.
They used this data alongside the current cost of such technologies to produce a ballpark figure for the total cost of fitting out all cars with such features.
When the numbers were crunched, the researchers found a positive outcome in both scenarios. In the ideal world where all such incidents can be avoided, it resulted in a whopping $202 billion saving, or roughly $860 per car.
Even in the more conservative scenario, there was still a net benefit of $4 billion, or $20 per vehicle, of deploying the technology. Whilst this may seem rather small, the team are confident that both the cost of the technology will reduce in time, but also its effectiveness will rise, thus making this a figure that will only improve in time.
“If you bought a car right now with these safety systems at the current prices offered by auto manufacturers, both you and society would have a positive economic benefit. We are seeing that partial automation is accomplishing crash and crash severity reductions, and we expect that to improve. This study creates a framework for regulatory action encouraging early deployment of partial automation technologies,” they say.
Whether this will be all the incentive needed to provoke a government response to the situation remains to be seen, but it is certainly an interesting addition to our knowledge base as we transition to a driverless world.