European Truck Platooning Challenge
Artificial Intelligence

Get Ready. Fleets of Autonomous Cars Could Soon Be Coming to a State Near You

Could we completely give up the wheel?

Cecille De JesusNovember 17th 2016

Hard Habit to Break

Despite laws requiring that autonomous vehicles maintain steering wheels, brakes, and human driving interfaces, more and more autonomous car manufacturers insist on removing these features. And it seems they bet on the right horse. Legislation is struggling to catch up with technology, but Michigan is taking that first step forward.

A bill passed by the Michigan State Legislature is pending governor Rick Snyder’s signature to allow self-driving cars to operate without a driver or steering wheel. The amendment would also legalize “platooning,” or the electronically synchronized travel in groups of autonomous trucks. Should this go through, Michigan would be the first state in the country to legalize it.

Unsurprisingly, autonomous car manufacturers are taking advantage of their liberties in the state to get a lead on the race to full vehicle autonomy.

A "platoon" of autonomous trucks. Scania.
A “platoon” of autonomous trucks. Scania.

“We are planning to utilize the Michigan law as soon as possible – we will start commercially deploying our platooning system next year, and will have product on the road much sooner than Otto or Tesla,” Jonny Morris of automated vehicle company Peloton tells Inverse.

In its bid to be the home of driverless vehicles, Michigan cradles innovations in self-driving vehicles, going so far as to update laws to accommodate the necessities of the rapidly developing industry. Recently, they launched a law stating that hacking an autonomous vehicle (unless with permission such as in routine tests) is punishable by life in prison.

Giving Up Control

Critics argue that semi-autonomous cars are far more dangerous than fully autonomous ones. “Developing a car that can shoulder the entire burden of driving is crucial to safety,” says Chris Urmson, director of Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent corporation. “We saw in our own testing that the human drivers can’t always be trusted to dip in and out of the task of driving when the car is encouraging them to sit back and relax.”

However, a poll shows that the majority of people would prefer to have full or partial control over their vehicles, and only 49 percent are willing to give up the steering wheel if it means safer roads for all.

Ford, Tesla, Otto (Uber) and about thirty other companies are working on autonomous vehicles as of August this year. It’s just a matter of time before more states are faced with the challenge of implementing legislation to reflect this evolving technology.

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