Make us your home page
Instagram

Bottom line with driverless cars: Will people buy them?

When it comes to driverless cars, the question isn't whether we have the technology to make them, because we do. The question is, "Will people want to buy them?''

That's a major obstacle facing automakers and proponents of automated vehicle technology, said Jim Barbaresso, vice president of intelligent transportation systems for HNTB, an infrastructure design firm. Sure, you can cover a car in sensors and track its location to an inch, but what happens if the system fails and a car crashes? Try explaining that to a potential buyer.

Barbaresso was in Tampa on Monday meeting with top officials at the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority to talk about the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway's recent naming as one of 10 test sites nationwide for automated vehicles. He wanted to check out the elevated lanes and connecting streets to see how they might best be used in a test environment. He also wanted to brief them on the latest automated vehicle technology coming out of Detroit, his home base.

The Selmon Expressway linking downtown Tampa and Brandon could be ideal for concepts leading up to driverless vehicles, such as connected vehicle technology and platooning, Barbaresso said. Connected vehicles communicate their location, speed and direction to other vehicles to avoid collisions. Platooning involves grouping vehicles behind a lead car that sets the pace and braking, which would allow cars to travel faster and closer together. It could be done on a designated highway lane similar to a carpool lane.

Talk of driverless cars isn't new but has accelerated in recent years as technology has advanced. Three states have passed legislation allowing the cars to be tested on public roads — Florida, California and Nevada — and several states have testing sites like the Selmon Expressway, including California, Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia. Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced plans to require new cars to communicate with each other, a move transportation planners said will prevent tens of thousands of crashes every year.

By offering the Selmon Expressway as a test site, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is preparing itself for the future, Barbaresso said.

Although issues of security and standardization still have to be worked out, driverless cars could be available as soon as 2020, Barbaresso said. Already, some cars offer lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control and auto braking systems. Even the backup sensor on my 5-year-old Mercury Mariner is an earlier form of sensor-related technology.

"There are more companies than ever that are working on this,'' said Barbaresso, chairman of the 21st World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems being held in September in Detroit. "We're on the cusp of a transformation.''

Getting customer buy-in won't happen overnight, as we've seen with electric vehicles, which accounted for less than 4 percent of all U.S. auto sales last year, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association. In 20 years, Barbaresso sees a mix of "intelligent'' vehicles on the road, from cars that talk to one another to ones that drive themselves.

Obviously, you'll never sell everyone on driverless vehicles. But you might attract young people more interested in holding a smartphone than a steering wheel, especially if affordably priced.

Fueling the push is safety. Proponents contend that since most auto accidents are caused by human error, if you take the human out of the equation, you'll reduce the number of crashes. Seems reasonable, until there's a system glitch, which is bound to happen.

Ultimately, the market will decide how quickly automated vehicles are embraced — and to what extent. It will take time getting used to not seeing hands on the wheel.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110. Follow her on Twitter @susan_thurston.

Bottom line with driverless cars: Will people buy them? 02/17/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 17, 2014 10:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Amazon receives 238 proposals from places eager to become its 2nd headquarters

    Business

    NEW YORK — Amazon said Monday that it received 238 proposals from cities and regions in the United States, Canada and Mexico hoping to be the home of the company's second headquarters.

    Earlier this month, an Amazon employee gives her dog a biscuit as the pair head into a company building, where dogs are welcome, in Seattle. Amazon says it received 238 proposals from cities and regions hoping to be the home of the company's second headquarters. 
[AP Photo/Elaine Thompson]
  2. Target says customers want it to pause the Christmas creep

    Retail

    NEW YORK — Target says customers want it to pause the "Christmas creep." It says it wants to be more in tune with customers' mindset, so it plans to ease in holiday promotions this year while better recognizing Thanksgiving.

     Target says customers want it to pause the "Christmas creep." It says it wants to be more in tune with customers' mindset, so it plans to ease in holiday promotions this year while better recognizing Thanksgiving. This is Target's new store in Manhattan's Herald Square that opened last week. 
[Kavita Kumar/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS]
  3. Tampa's Walter Investment Management restructuring, could file for bankruptcy

    Corporate

    TAMPA — Tampa-based Walter Investment Management Corp. is restructuring to cut down some of the mortgage firm's $700 million debt, Walter announced Friday night. The firm, according to its investor relations page, focuses on subprime and "other credit-challenged" mortgages.

    Walter Investment Management is restructuring to reduce its $700 million debt, the company announced late Friday. Pictured is Anthony Renzi. CEO. | [Courtesy of LinkedIn]
  4. Carrollwood fitness center employs scientific protocol to help clients

    Business

    In 2005, Al Roach and Virginia Phillips, husband and wife, opened 20 Minutes to Fitness in Lakewood Ranch, and last month they opened the doors to their new location in Carrollwood.

    Preston Fisher, a personal fitness coach at 20 Minutes To Fitness, stands with an iPad while general manager/owner Angela Begin conducts an equipment demonstration. The iPad is used to track each client's information and progress. I also included one shot of just the equipment. The center recently opened in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  5. Olive Tree branches out to Wesley Chapel

    Business

    WESLEY CHAPEL — When it came time to open a second location of The Olive Tree, owners John and Donna Woelfel, decided that Wesley Chapel was the perfect place.

    The Olive Tree expands its offerings of "ultra premium?€ extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) to a second location in Wesley Chapel. Photo by Danielle Hauser.