While the 21st century has yet to produce the hover-car of science fiction, we have developed something arguably better: the driverless car. Over 2 million americans are injured in car accidents annually, with approximately 95% attributed to human error. Nevertheless, the technology scares many drivers, who fear that the car could too easily crash. However, very few incidents have occurred during test drives by companies like Tesla and Google, who currently lead the market. 

While both companies developed  driverless cars, the technologies they employ are slightly different. Cars in the Google fleet use sensors, algorithms and GPS to determine where they are and how they should react, while Tesla is using a type of AI engineered by NVIDIA. This means that while Google cars have been programmed to recognize an astonishing number of stationary objects and motion types, the NVIDIA powered car learns how to drive through several lessons by manual drivers “to create all necessary internal representations necessary to steer … Learning to drive in these complex environments [like construction sites and overgrown paths] demonstrates new capabilities of deep neural networks,”  NVIDIA explained in a press release. 

By contrast, the Google cars use MobileEye, which allows the car to see all around itself and classify objects based on size, shape and movement pattern, and recognize roadways and traffic signs. The software then predicts what the objects will do next and chooses a safe path and speed. Google’s fleet is also designed to ride, meaning that the cars do not have a steering wheel or pedals. Google has been working on this project since 2009, during which time the fleet has logged more than 2 million miles of test drives. 

 To date, self-driving cars have only lead to one fatality, which occurred on May 7 of this year in Florida when the car did not distinguish an eighteen wheeler that was crossing an intersection. While the crash has had a negative effect on public relations, the company reminded customers that whenever autopilot is engaged, “the car reminds the driver to always keep your hands on the wheel [and] be prepared to take over at any time,” and that the driver in question was reportedly watching a Harry Potter film on a portable DVD player at the time of the crash. 

While the technology is not infallible, 90 people die each day in the US from automobile accidents and these cars could dramatically reduce that number. How quickly the technology is likely to become widespread is not clear, in the meantime, some vehicles, like the one involved in the May 7th crash, are operating in a public Beta mode, meaning the technology is still in development, but was determined safe enough to be experimentally with some users.