Bright future for driverless cars

The next time you get behind the wheel and before you start the ignition, take a moment to appreciate how much technology is in your car. You may have adaptive cruise control or Bluetooth connecting your mobile devices to your car stereo. Maybe you have front and rear park assist cameras, blind spot indicators or collision avoidance systems. You may drive one of the six million American cars with GM’s On Star system, which immediately reports collisions and air bag deployments. Almost every recent model car offers more technology to make a run to the grocery store than the Apollo astronauts had to land on the moon in 1969.

As technology continues to advance, our cars will take on more responsibility for mundane driving tasks. One day soon, your car will literally drive itself. When the first driverless car rolls off the assembly line, it will embody years of research and development by engineers, computer scientists, behaviorists and safety experts in the automotive, consumer electronics (CE) and IT industries.

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The automotive sector is one of the most vibrant spaces for innovation in the CE industry today. The evidence of this growth is apparent in the historic attendance by automotive companies at the 2013 International CES®, and again in 2014, where this year nine of the top ten car makers will be exhibiting their cars as rolling miracles in technology, and many will showcase advancements in driverless car technology.

Consumer interest in driverless cars continues to improve as well. A recent Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®survey found that 79 percent of consumers would be willing to be a passenger in a driverless car. So, it should come as no surprise that CEA named driverless cars as one of the top five technologies to watch in 2014. Someday soon, driverless car technologies will be common, and the elderly, the disabled and society as a whole will benefit from a safer, more empowering driving experience.

The certain progress to driverless car technology results from private sector innovation that not only enhances the driving experience but also makes it safer. CEA members agree that safety is the top priority in the developing and producing car technology, and several companies have developed breakthrough technologies to ensure drivers focus on the road, stay in their lanes and avoid collisions. Indeed, first-generation driverless cars are now on the road that not only provide cautionary warnings against a car stopping in front of you, but also track the car in front of the car in front of you, and if necessary, will take over control of the car to ensure a collision is avoided.

Technology holds the key to driver safety, and we are increasingly educating consumers on the options available to them and the safe use of technology in cars. CEA supports bans on texting while driving and recently launched a Driver Device Interface Working Group to develop standards and recommendations for safer user experiences in line with NHTSA Phase I guidelines. Through our new Innovating Safety public education campaign, the industry is alerting the driving public about the innovative products that keep drivers safer while allowing them to stay connected.

Drivers have amazing access to technologies that limit distraction, improve awareness and help them navigate the road, and soon our cars will drive themselves. As the industry continues to research and develop the technologies that will usher in the age of the driverless car, innovators will offer more products and devices to make the driving experience safer. As this evolution continues, Congress must be mindful to keep the door to innovation open to encourage a future full of new discoveries.

Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.