Autonomous Cars Keep Coming

Many of us got our first, abrasive look at the rapidly developing concept of autonomous cars back in 2012, when Bay Area natives were suddenly looking Google’s self-driving cars in the face and finding, disconcertingly, that there was no one there. Just a few years back, only avid tech- and auto- lovers had been following the car’s development into road-ready testing while the rest of us balked at the autonomous cars’ sudden appearance on the streets of San Francisco, the less tech-savvy wondering how they could have possibly missed it when driverless cars became legal.

model sNow the development of autonomous cars is common knowledge and moving forwarding in full force. Just last month Tesla released its most recent Autopilot update for the Model S, which allowed for drivers to set the car’s destination and promptly remove their hands from the wheel (although Tesla engineers discourage doing so). The Autopilot software is so effective that a popular long-distance driving trio used it to drive from Redondo Beach, CA to Manhattan in just over 57 hours. According to the trio, they were able to operate in Autopilot while still navigating at speeds of and exceeding 90 miles per hour.

Abusive, if interesting uses of autonomous driving beg a larger legal question, namely “What are the laws regarding autonomous driving?” The answer is that they largely don’t exist. Within the last five years legislation has been passed in some states allowing fully autonomous cars (Nevada and Florida in 2012, California and Michigan in 2013, Coeur d’Arlene, Idaho in 2014) but in cases like Tesla’s autopilot update it becomes clear that a lot of unprecedented technological advancements are allowed to hit the road simply because there are no laws made against them.

Given that no real laws continue to stand in the way of the development of autonomous cars, enough auto manufacturers have signed up to start developing their own take on the new-age concept that the rest of the manufacturers are scrambling to catch up.

McityFord recently made headlines with its newest stride towards the autonomous automotive future; it has committed to being the first automaker to test its self-driving car at Mcity, a full-size model of an urban environment fabricated by the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center. Mcity has been created with the diverse roads and cityscapes of any urban environment and has residential and industrial neighborhoods and everything in between.

Ford spokesperson Alan Hall explained, “The key element in testing at Mcity is the fact that you can create situations that our engineers would rarely encounter through public road testing, even with significant time or miles, and then do them over and over and over again, in order to develop and test the way the vehicle will respond.”

“Plus you’re doing it in a safe environment,” he added. However, he explained that for an autonomous car to truly be ready for retail, it had to have experience on the real road too:

“Both public roads and closed testing facilities like Mcity play important roles in our development of autonomous vehicles. They offer unique benefits.”

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