The Self-Driving Car Episode
6:27 Two Curious Minds
In this episode of Two Curious Minds, we explore the fascinating world of self-driving cars. It’s estimated that there could be as many as 10 million fully autonomous cars on the road by 2020. When we heard that stat we couldn’t believe it. Think about it, when’s the last time you said “I really need a self-driving car?” Is there really that large of a demand in the market place? The more we thought about it, the more questions we had. Do we really need cars that drive themselves? Do self-driving cars solve any real problems, or are they just a novelty?
Here We Go:
Imagine this. You call an Uber to pick you up, but there’s a catch… When it shows up there’s no driver. That’s because it’s a self-driving car. What would you do?
This scenario could come sooner than you think. Especially when you consider that last year Uber started testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Being the Two Curious Minds that we are we put self-driving cars on our list, packed our bags, and headed to the Steel City to see these cars for ourselves.
Let me set the scene for you. Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, the Steel City. It’s the city of bridges, with over 445 connecting the city over three rivers. It’s also home to pop artist Andy Warhol and six-time Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers. After the steel industry collapse in the early 80’s, this “Steel City” has struggled to find a new identity. That’s where our story picks up.
Pittsburgh has always been known as a blue collar, no frills town. But a new focus on technology is driving the steel city into the future. Companies like Disney, Google, Intel, Apple, and of course Uber have all been attracted to Western Pennsylvania because it’s home to one of the nation’s leading robotic schools, Carnegie Mellon University.
Besides the amazing engineering talent, what makes Pittsburgh a great testing ground for this experiment is that it’s one of the hardest cities to navigate. When you combine the fact that the city doesn’t have a standard grid layout, traffic patterns are pretty aggressive, and the weather conditions can get extreme, all of a sudden it starts to make sense. If UBER can master Pittsburgh, it can traverse any city in the United States.
Armed with a camera and a microphone, we hit the streets. We roamed the city for less than fifteen minutes before we found our first self-driving Uber. James got pretty excited and broke the first rule of crossing the street… he didn’t look both ways. He also rushed a group of unsuspecting passengers with a selfie stick. We found autonomous Uber's cruising all over the city picking people up and dropping them off like it was no big deal. Most people would certainly agree that “What” these highly intelligent cars are doing is nothing short of amazing. But “Why” they’re doing it is a little less clear.
In a recent AAA survey three out of four Americans said they were afraid to ride in a self-driving car. Yet this hasn’t stopped car companies and Uber from spending billions of dollars in the race to be first to market with a fully autonomous car.
We did some research and determined there were three key benefits:
In an effort to understand why people are so skeptical of self-driving cars we decide to run an informal focus group with the people of Pittsburgh. You can check out people’s responses in the video above. No surprise, the people we talked to supported our research, they were skeptical of the new technology. So we asked why.
One popular response was “lack of control.” Humans don’t like giving up control. But control doesn’t exactly equal safety. Last year there were one million deaths caused by car accident, and 90% of those were caused by human error. The safest form of travel involves the least amount of human interaction, Aviation. 90% of your last flight was controlled by autopilot.
Ask yourself this “Would you ride in a self-flying plane?” Of course you would… because every time you fly, that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’ve heard this before… “You're more likely to die in an accident on the way to the airport than you are in a plane crash.”
Planes are safer than cars, but how much safer? A LOT! On average there are 48 casualties a year caused by air transport accidents, compared to over 30,000 caused by driving in just the United States alone. Why is flying safer? Because 90% of an average flight is controlled by autopilot. They’ve eliminated the human element almost completely. Ironically, more people are afraid to fly in a plane than they are to drive a car. Even though statistically speaking they are far less safe. It comes down to our perception of risk, in relation to control, or lack thereof. Driving equals control, sitting on a plane does no “We’re putting our life in the hands of a computer.”
As the sun set on the steel city, it was time for us to head home.
Are self-driving cars the future of transportation? We’re not sure yet. It’s still too early to tell, but one thing that stood out to us in our research was safety. When we think about all of the people who get distracted behind the wheel, checking Facebook and Snapchat, self-driving cars could help save lives.
There’s a lot of evidence that points to the future of transportation, especially in big cities like Pittsburgh, being less about owning a car and more about having access to one. That’s where self-driving Ubers and other ride share companies will come into play. It’s no surprise that all of the big automotive players are investing in this space.
Here’s the big question. Should we cross self-driving cars off of our list? At this point we don’t think so, not yet at least. We think the automotive industry as we know it is about to go through a major overhaul. We’re still curious to see what role self-driving cars will play in that. It will be interesting to see what happens, but until then it’s time to move on to the next subject on our list.
This was Two Curious Minds. Thanks for watching/reading. If you liked this video, give us a subscribe on YouTube and tell your friends, every bit helps. Tell us why you think self-driving cars are the first sign of Skynet’s world domination strategy in the YouTube comments.
Until next time, we’ve been the Fratzke Brothers, and you’ve been awesome.
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