In Brief
  • Henrik Christensen, who heads UC San Diego’s Contextual Robotics Institute, believes that children born today will never have the opportunity to drive a car, thanks to autonomous vehicles.
  • He argues that driverless cars will not only allow us to put twice as many vehicles on the road, but also give us a chance to be more productive.

A Self-Driving Future

For many, learning how to drive is a rite of passage that teenagers pine for. Getting behind the wheel for the first time, passing drivers ed, getting your license, and buying your first car symbolize your first steps towards independence.

But one expert believes it’s a milestone that teens of the future won’t experience.

Image Credit: Motortrend

“My own prediction is that kids born today will never get to drive a car,” says Henrik Christensen, who heads UC San Diego’s Contextual Robotics Institute. “Autonomous, driverless cars are 10, 15 years out. All the automotive companies–Daimler, GM, Ford–are saying that within five years they will have autonomous, driverless cars on the road.”

By now, we’ve already learned to live with all the downsides of driving. Sitting in traffic is certainly better walking to and from work; wasting time looking for parking is better than elbowing through crowds to get a seat on the subway. But Christensen argues that these activities could soon be a thing of the past. Driverless cars will not only allow us to put twice as many vehicles on the road, with little to no effort to improve current infrastructure, they also give us a chance to be more productive. Christensen explains:

I love to drive my car, but it’s a question of how much time people waste sitting in traffic and not doing something else. The average person in San Diego probably spends an hour commuting every day. If they could become more productive, that would be good […] In theory, you’d get out of the car and say, ‘Pick me up at 4 p.m.’ Long-term — we’re talking 20 years into the future — you’re not even going to own a car. A car becomes a service.

What Other Experts Have to Say

For anyone who has driven all their lives, this is certainly a future that’s hard to imagine. Besides, given the pace of technological advancement in this field, it’s hard to keep track of where the future is truly headed.

Just this week, the head of Toyota’s Research Institute said that “[…]As wonderful as AI is, AI systems are inevitably flawed… We’re not even close to Level 5. It’ll take many years and many more miles, in simulated and real world testing, to achieve the perfection required for level 5 autonomy.”

Others however, like Elon Musk, stand by Christensen’s predictions, asserting that 2017 will be the year Tesla vehicles will become completely autonomous. Even Faraday Future, a relative newcomer in the industry, just demonstrated their concept car’s capability to back into a parking slot – a skill not even the most dedicated teen with a learner’s permit can easily execute.

It seems a driverless future isn’t guaranteed for the next generation, but it is certainly possible.