Directions: Autonomous Autos Take to the Streets

Directions: Autonomous Autos Take to the Streets

There is a lot of speculation on how driverless vehicles - which are already on the roads as test cars - will impact the service industry.

Google reported that its experimental autonomous Prius has driven more than 300,000 miles without an accident.  Photo credit: Steve JurvetsonThe auto industry won’t be producing vehicles in the near future that encompass the options of the flying “Spinner” cars portrayed in 1982’s Blade Runner, however, the reality is that we will soon be seeing something more like the “Johnny Cabs” that hailed from the 1990’s film Total Recall.

In March of this year, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued a license for a self-driven car, and in late September, California’s Gov. Jerry Brown, at a ceremony at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, signed into law a bill that his state’s Department of Motor Vehicles is to write regulations covering robot cars by January 2015.

The law also allows autonomous vehicles to operate on California roads.

“I expect that self-driving cars are going to be far safer than human-driven cars,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin. “Self-driving cars do not run red lights.”

There is a lot of speculation on how these driverless vehicles will impact the service industry.

For one thing, it’s going to take technicians even more skilled in computers and electronics to service these vehicle systems.

Bob Lutz, former GM vice chairman and idea man behind the Chevy Volt, said recently that he expects mass-produced driverless vehicles on the roads within 20 years and that the technology to operate such vehicles is already available.

Lutz cited “smart systems” like start-stop technology, lane departure warning systems, adaptive cruise control and GPS guidance — designs currently used in some of today’s high-end vehicles — will be combined by engineers to produce the hands-free cars.

Together, these advancements are designed to keep the vehicle in its lane and at a safe distance from the car in front of it. The car will also apply the brakes to avoid a collision, even when a car driving 30 miles slower suddenly pulls in front of it.

Lutz thinks this is a great idea, since “cars don’t smoke pot or drink,” and thereby the nation will see a reduction in driver-impaired accidents.

The vehicles could be bad news for collision shops, as fewer accidents transforms into less work for collision shops. Insurance costs also could decline.

While the expected safety improvements are beneficial, the aftermarket may see more miles per vehicle increase, as the technology will allow more people such as the elderly and those who do not like to drive in
traffic the opportunity for more travel.

Vehicles also could be programmed to arrive at your shop for service or maintenance even without a passenger. Let’s just hope the “smart car” doesn’t ­forget the credit card to pay for the work.

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