By David L. Horne, Ph.D. | OpEd contributor
No, the Jetsons are not here yet. Nor are they likely to be fully among us — or at least their flying autos—until a few years down the road. Probably quite a few.
However, the autonomous driverless vehicle, the Jetson precursor, is here right now. Of course, it will not and cannot immediately replace our local automobiles and our gasoline pumps. But those will certainly be in our rear view mirrors much sooner than later.
Already, some analysts are predicting the outlawing of human drivers by perhaps 2050 in order to prevent road accidents, and not to interfere with the computerized autos communicating with each other (with zero road accidents).
In fact, Amazon, which has jumped into the game, is already testing a driverless passenger vehicle for its employees right now (called the ZooX Robotaxi) in Fremont, Calif. on public roads, and says the vehicles are already virtually ready to be put into daily usage, even though they right now look very, very strange and unworldly.
By or before the end of 2023, possibly even this summer, Amazon says that should be very feasible.
What does this mean for the rest of us? Making Amazon spaces more Jetson-like is one thing. Driverless autos plying the 405, 10, and 5 freeways, however, is something else entirely.
Besides that, other parts of the auto industry had seemed to be backing away from producing driverless road sedans at this time. For example, because of production costs and the continued problem of roadside accidents, Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen AG just publicly announced a few months ago that they had both stopped production and testing of their Argo self-driving units and were instead going to focus on producing more driver-assistance technology, since that would be more profitable in the short run. But Amazon’s success has apparently pressured a change in that thinking.
Why does Amazon now seem to have the edge while not even being a primary automobile company? The primary reason is that Amazon’s automotive unit decided to build its robotaxi vehicle not from a retrofitted preexisting automotive vehicle, as most other auto companies had done, but as a fully autonomous vehicle from scratch.
The robotaxi at present is built without a steering wheel or floor pedals. Inside the vehicle is all seating and viewing space. The current model has room for four passengers, with two facing each other.
Other companies are now still pursuing development of this driverless technology, and are expected to quickly follow Amazon’s example. These include General Motors Company’s Cruise unit and Alphabet Automobile’s’ Waymo (in fact, they already have).
Tesla, once the dominant leader in this field, said it expected to have its production-level vehicle ready by this summer, but by that time it will be a laggard, not the leader. And, at the beginning of 2023, GM has just announced that it, too, has its GM Cruise model and Chevy Bolt already tooling around the cities of Austin, Phoenix and San Francisco as robotaxis to fully test the reliability of the technology. In fact, GM has also announced it is ready to test commercial service in its model.
The commercially operating robotaxis will all use Lidar, radar, and cameras to navigate streets, with a number of the cameras mounted on a sensor pod on the roof of the auto to get a 3D picture of the auto’s surroundings.
GM’s spokesperson also said that it only took the company approximately 90 days to go from having no viable infrastructure in the cities chosen, including EV chargers, map data, and fully preparing the vehicles themselves, to actually launching a commercial robotaxi service. All signs point to a completely successful launch of public taxi service in the driverless autos in 2023.
Don’t send in the Jetsons. They’re already here.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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